All Is Lost: Redford at Telluride, Toronto, NY Film Fests

In the survival-at-sea-against-all-odds saga, All Is Lost, star Robert Redford meets boldly and heroically his greatest acting challenge to date, dominating each and every frame.

World premiering at the 2013 Cannes Film Fest (out of competition), All Is Lost will be released by Lionsgate after traveling the fall festival road: Telluride, Toronto, and New York.

At 76, Redford is in top physical and mental shape to tackle his most demanding role in a film that depends entirely on his charismatic screen presence and dramatic acting chops.

Redford plays a grizzly sailor who strikes bad luck, when a floating container full of shoes smashes into his boat, which, as it turns out, is navigated by him. He sails the Indian Ocean alone on his 37-foot yacht, named Virginia Jean, 1700 nautical miles from the Sumatra Straits.

The opening voiceover is basically the only dialogue in the movie, which is silent, unless you count words like “Help!”or “F—k” as narrative.

Redford’s character’s name is never revealed. It may be that it’s meant to stand for Everyman, a symbolic tribute to American manhood, the old-style. Nonetheless, for the duration of the saga (105 minutes), there are enough tasks, challenges, disasters, and adventures to keep viewers intrigued, frightened, and ultimately rooting for the person, who is identified in the closing credits as “Our Man.”

Writer-director J.C. Chandor’s shows a rigorous strategy, which is demanding on both the actor-star and the viewers. His mise-en-scene is impressive in its reliance on matter-of-fact realism. The film asks, how do you fending for yourself in the most isolated of surroundings, and the most dangerous situations, when you are utterly alone and fragile, at the mercy of Mother Nature and other elements. Can a human being survive by relying on his animalistic instincts?

It’s to Chandor’s credit that he successfully avoids any gimmicks or tricks to leaven the situation, or turn it into a more suspenseful melodrama, as could be the case in a more mainstream film by another director. There are no flashback, no backstory about the man’s past and family, no letters read by Redford (or others). All Is Lost strips the conventional Hollywood actioner to one confined setting, and an older man equipped with only the basic sailing skills.

Indeed, for the duration of the film, Redford is observed in minutia detail as he goes about the endless tasks to be done. There are sharks creepily circling under Redford’s craft. How does he handle the life-threatening crisis? He’s observed cutting his boat free, patching the holes, draining out the water.

The film is pared-down to its most basic elements of naturalistic sounds and images that are both realistic and stylized.
There is no access into Redford’s mind or heart, and the character remains almost opaque. We wonder, how did he get to the Indian Ocean to begin with?

Redford holds the screen effortlessly with no support of secondary characters. In fact, he appears to be re-energized by the immense challenge. The difficulties in hauling down the sail, or righting his dinghy, lend his physical labor dimensions of real fear, serious doubts and uncertainty about his very life.

Redford has always been a reluctant star and an understated, self-sufficient performer (you could never catch him overacting). Boasting a half a century career as a star, he has always been an underestimated actor, due to his extremely good, patrician looks when he was young, and reticence to talk much or open himself up on screen and off. Redford’s advancing years and wrinkled face prove to be advantageous to the subtlety and complexity of his one-man show here.