'All Is Lost' finds right blend for compelling film

Friday, November 8, 2013 | by: Mat DeKinder

Robert Redford alone on a boat for nearly two hours. That’s a pretty dicey movie pitch even if it were 1972, but “All Is Lost” proves he’s one of the few actors who could pull it off, even at the ripe old age of 77.

When I say this movie is just Redford on a boat, I’m not kidding. The glut of the dialogue, which includes the movie’s title, occurs at the very beginning during a voiceover where Redford reports the dire situation of his nameless character adrift on the Indian Ocean.

The rest of the movie he says maybe three words and still manages to give one of the most compelling performances of his storied career.

We are given no backstory and are left to only guess as to why he is sailing alone in a small yacht in the middle of the ocean. Is he sailing around the world? Is he running away from something? Is he going to a super-delayed meeting with Deep Throat?

At any rate, his boat strikes a shipping container drifting in the sea. The container punches a hole in his hull and swamps all of his communication equipment. He is able to patch the hole, but he is now at the mercy of the elements in a damaged boat and no way to contact the outside world.

Redford’s character is incredibly resourceful and competent as he displays a textbook efficiency in dealing with each new problem he faces. I could see the Boy Scouts making this movie required viewing in order to receive your seamanship badge.

You would think a movie packed with scenes like “Redford repairs a hole in a boat,” “Redford inventories supplies” and “Redford eats some beans out of a can” would make for tedious viewing, and yet I was transfixed.

You could dismiss this praise if I had a deep love of sailing skills, but since I don’t know my stern from my poop deck, I have to give all the credit to Redford’s performance and to writer and director J.C. Chandor.

With this being only his second feature, Chandor is as green as Redford is seasoned, yet he proved to be someone to keep an eye on with his impressive debut “Margin Call.”

Chandor’s talent is even more apparent when you compare his two films and see how well made and wildly different they are. “Margin Call” boasted a huge cast and a wordy script that dug into the moral vagaries of high finance.

With “All Is Lost” he has stripped moviemaking down to the chassis and made something thrilling out of one man saying nothing at all.

The camera almost never leaves Redford or the boat for that matter, as Chandor resists the urge to go wide and give us the shot of the tiny craft bobbing in the roiling, unforgiving sea.

We experience everything as Redford does, getting tossed about inside the cabin during a storm or standing on the deck trying to make out anything in the driving, blinding rain.

I know the reality is they probably shot this thing right off the Santa Monica Pier, but Redford deserves credit for taking on this physically demanding role that would be taxing for an actor half his age.

Unless literally no one goes and sees this movie, I would be very surprised if Redford doesn’t snag a Best Actor nomination, which, regardless of the rest of the field, automatically makes him a dark horse to win the Oscar.

While his noteworthy performance might not be the best of the year (that goes to Chiwetel Ejiofor in “12 Years a Slave”), never underestimate the “Holy crap! We’ve never given Redford an acting Oscar?” sentiment taking over with the Best Actor Oscar serving as a lifetime achievement award of sorts.

Honestly, I don’t really have a problem with that. He is great in “All Is Lost” and we all know you don’t always win the Oscar for the movie you should have won for (see Scorsese, Martin; Crowe, Russell and Washington, Denzel [the second time]). There are certainly worse things that could happen; like, say, being stranded on a boat in the middle of the ocean.

“All Is Lost” is rated PG-13 for brief strong language.

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