There's no smooth sailing for Robert Redford in the new film, "All is Lost." His character finds himself alone and at odds with the forces of nature, fighting for his life in the Indian Ocean. It's an epic battle.
There is no back story. Redford's nameless character (credited as "Our Man") wakes up as seawater is pouring into the cabin of his 39-foot sailboat. A drifting shipping container has punctured his port side. Methodically, he addresses the problem, demonstrating his vast aptitude as a seasoned sailor. But when a devastating storm adds insult to injury, his ship sinks.
Without electronics, potable drinking water and little protection from the elements, he's forced to rely solely upon himself and the sheer will to survive. For eight days he endures passing cargo ships, raging seas and a life raft in constant need of repair. He's fighting the good fight but he's losing the battle.
Writer-director J.C. Chandor ("Margin Call") had a "dream come true" when Redford agreed to sign onto this risky project. After all, there's virtually no dialogue, scant scoring and a singular character...not quite the formula for box office ballyhoo. But Chandor's "existential action movie" (which is how he pitched it to investors) exceeds all expectations.
Meticulous camerawork provides spare yet exquisite visuals. Through Chandor's lens we become not merely spectators but participants in Redford's excruciating experience. His determination is ours, his disappointments evolve into personal pain. As he becomes one with the sea, so do we.
But without Redford's flawless performance the audience may not have been so readily to go there. His minimalist approach to his character's psyche is monumentally successful. His instinctive resolve to fight back seems second nature. It's not acting. It's being. And at age 77, it's his best move, ever.
At the very beginning of the film, there's a voice-over by Redford intended for those he may have left behind. He states that he is sorry and goes on to further comment he's always tried "to love, to be good, to be right and that I fought to the end. All is lost." Don't be too sure.
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