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Robert Redford superb in solo ‘All Is Lost’
THIS YEAR’S POTENTIAL OSCAR CONTENDERS seem to have a certain hopelessness about them. “Gravity” pits Saundra Bullock against the vacuum of space. “12 Years a Slave” outlines the horrors and desperation of slavery. The Academy values such stories—Best Picture is almost always an inward look at the nature of man, with tragedies both external and intrinsic.
This month, Robert Redford explores both as the solitary cast member in a film about being lost at sea, fighting against the elements in a damaged yacht somewhere in the Indian Ocean. “All is Lost” is impeccably acted, captivating, and tragic. It’s a compelling vehicle for one of the great living American actors, told as simply as possible. Sparse doesn’t begin to describe the screenplay, and yet the story is powerfully told and emotionally resonant.
The tale of man facing his own mortality is nothing new, but it’s a type of story so rich, so fascinating, that each retelling has the opportunity to shed new light on an old theme. “All is Lost” is direct and unflinching, so as to draw the audience into the film as if we were a part of the action ourselves.
The film begins with a short opening monologue, where an unnamed man is apologizing and explaining to someone about the events of the past eight days. Beyond one or two words here and there, it is the last time the character speaks. The film is told through the sound of wind and wave, the creak of the bow against the elements, and an ominous thundering in the distance. Our Man awakens alone on his boat, far from land in the Indian Ocean, to find his vessel is taking on water. A metal shipping crate has fallen from a passing boat and crashed through the hull of the yacht.
The water damages the emergency radio, and although the man is able to fix the damage, he is unable hear the warning of an impending storm. The man steers directly into its path, dooming the boat to a watery grave. The scenes during the storm are especially captivating. We become aware of just how small the boat is in comparison to the swells of the ocean during the squall. Redford’s character is attempting to guide a few pieces of fiberglass and wood through roving mountains of salt water, which crash and cascade around him, creating deadly peaks and valleys ever changing with the wind.
Redford’s character is a seasoned sailor, one that does everything right and follows every protocol. He is not in a bad situation due to negligence or inexperience. And yet, despite his best efforts, the sea mocks him. Man against the elements ultimately loses, even when the best of plans are laid. We watch as the character calmly moves from one situation to another, improvising and surviving only to have yet another catastrophe befall him.
We gradually forget that we are watching Robert Redford, as the movie star vanishes and is replaced by a man we learn to understand and hope for. “All is Lost” is only Redford’s second film since 2007—unlike other great actors like Robert De Niro, Redford is cautious about the roles he chooses. Given his resume, he’s certainly earned that right.
Suffice it to say, any film that Redford puts his name to is likely worth a look (this bodes well for the new “Captain America” film coming in January). “All is Lost” shows how much range the veteran actor has and exactly what he brings to the table.
There may be those that find the film dull. I will never understand those people. The ability to carry a film for nearly two hours without speaking is true talent indeed. There is more than enough drama to move the pace along, and the framing of the story is very much due to the direction by J.C. Chandor. This film is his second full-length feature, the first being the highly underrated “Margin Call.” Chandor’s faith in his actor as well as his eye for pacing make the film better than it might have been in the hands of someone else. Between Chandor and “12 Years and Slave” director Steve McQueen, it is obvious there is a new generation of filmmakers poised to take the reins from the greats of the past.
There are good things coming soon.