At this stage in his career, Robert Redford has nothing to prove. The 77-year-old actor has a long and distinguished career with many memorable performances. It would be easy to retire and bask in the glory of past works.
Instead, Redford has made “All is Lost” — an amazing, one-man tour-de-force that has to rank among his most challenging roles. It also has to rank among his best.
Written and directed by J. C. Chandor, the film stars Redford as an unnamed sailor out for a pleasure cruise on the Indian Ocean. He wakes to find water rushing in to his cabin. Robert (let’s call him that so I don’t have to keep using the word “he”) goes on deck to discover his ship has collided with a large shipping container.
Robert frees his boat from its entanglements and so begins his — and our — 90-minute ordeal as he struggles to stay alive. He repairs the hole in his ship and pumps out the water but his communications system is ruined. As is often the case in these types of films, whatever can go wrong will go wrong.
Survival films are nothing new, there’s even a popular one in theaters right now called “Gravity.” What makes this one unique and compelling is Redford’s near-silent performance. Movies like this usually rely on voiceovers conveying the person’s thoughts or just have the character rambling out loud to no one (or to a tiger or a video camera).
Robert is possibly the most stoic person alive. He methodically goes about repairing the ship, he takes every setback with quiet determination, he never gives up, he never curses fate or God or weather or malfunctioning equipment. It’s almost maddening how reserved he is. And when he finally, albeit briefly, gives in to his frustration with a single expletive, it’s as much a release for the audience as it is for him.
This lack of dialogue doesn’t make the movie boring — far from it. It draws you in closer to this man and what he’s going through. Redford relies on body language and facial expressions to tell you all you need to know.
Suspenseful, visually dazzling and emotionally draining, “All Is Lost” is one of the best films of the year. I pity the poor actors that are going up against Redford come awards season.