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‘All Is Lost’: Robert Redford’s finest hour

‘ALL IS LOST’ ★★★★

Unnamed sailor Robert

Roadside Attractions presents a film written and directed by J.C. Chandor. Running time: 107 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for brief strong language). Opens Friday at local theaters.

'I’m not an avid sailor at all,' says Robert Redford

Updated: November 26, 2013 6:08AM

We never learn his name.

Judging by his classically handsome and weathered looks, the small but finely appointed boat he’s sailing, the silver rings and leather bracelets on his hands and the few words he pens to unseen loved ones in a moment of crisis, this much we can surmise:

He’s probably in his 70s. Looks like he did pretty well financially. He’s extremely self-sufficient and independent. He is or was married. (The sailboat is named “The Virginia Jean.” Wife? Daughter?) And as he regards life and legacy, he’s quite aware he fell short in many areas.

This is all we know, and even some of the above is supposition. And yet when the man’s life is thrust into peril, his determination to survive — to literally weather more than one storm so he can grab a few more years of precious time on Earth — makes for one of the most engrossing and unforgettable one-man adventures in the history of cinema.

Speaking fewer words in the entirety of this movie than he has in his first 10 minutes of just about every role he’s played in his magnificent career, Robert Redford delivers arguably his most profound and moving performance. There are times during the man’s struggles when we literally have to remember to breathe.

Sailing alone on the Indian Ocean, the man is awakened by water pouring into his craft. We see a tiny gym shoe floating by as the man stands up, and for a moment we wonder if there’s someone else on board — a grandchild, perhaps? — but it turns out the man’s sailboat has rammed into a metal shipping container filled with thousands of tiny gym shoes, leaving a sizable hole on the side of the boat, which is now stuck to the container, with water continuing to stream in.

The man does not panic. He almost always pauses, looks around and considers his options before he performs the next task aimed at freeing his boat from the metal container, patching the considerable hole in the side of his craft and figuring out a way to safety even with nearly every piece of equipment ruined by the rising tide within the boat.

Compared to the solo histrionics performed by Tom Hanks in “Castaway” (the comedic “exchanges” with Wilson the volleyball, the dance of victory when Hanks creates fire), Redford works with minimalist arsenal here. He screams an expletive but once. He conveys great dramatic swings in fortune with a change in the expression of his eyes, a grunt of disappointment, a flicker of hope crossing his face, a moment when he buries his face in his hands as he begins to believe all is lost.

At times the man comes up with ingenious ways to find clean drinking water or attempt to establish communications with other craft or chart a course to a route favored by shipping vessels. Sometimes he looks utterly lost and defeated. Although the man is clearly in excellent physical shape and he’s sharp of mind and in impressive command of his emotions, we feel the weight of his age when he’s tossed about the ship by yet another storm or he’s climbing the mast to make repairs. With each approaching storm, each glimpse of a circling shark, survival seems impossible.

This is like “Gravity” without anyone to talk to. On a different, more relatable level, the special effects and the stunt work (and the many, many scenes in which Redford is clearly the one getting tossed about, getting soaked yet again, holding his breath and diving down to retrieve a key item in the flooded boat) are just as impressive here as in “Gravity.” We’re exhausted just watching the man’s eight-day ordeal. The script and the direction from J.C. Chandor is a masterpiece of nearly silent filmmaking. This is Chandor’s second film (the first was the terrific Wall Street drama “Margin Call”), and it is the stuff of awards. It’s an expertly paced thriller that never misses a note.

Robert Redford has played any number of smooth talkers (as well as a few stoic loners). Many of Redford’s richest roles — “The Candidate,” “The Great Gatsby,” “The Sting,” “The Natural” — have tapped into his movie star charisma and the way people react when he enters a room or talk about him when he’s off-screen. Here, he’s all alone, and he’s never been more compelling. Amazingly, Redford has been nominated for Best Actor just once (“The Sting,” 1974). His lone win was for directing “Ordinary People.”

That could change. In a year already crowded with worthy Best Actor candidates, from Hugh Jackman to Forest Whitaker to Chiwetel Ejiofor, “All Is Lost” might well be the film for which Redford finally wins an acting Oscar.


Twitter: @richardroeper

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