It was pretty obvious to me that director J.C. Chandor was gifted after I placed his 2011 feature debut “Margin Call” in my annual Top Ten film roster. He does not suffer from a sophomore slump with his latest, “All Is Lost”. And the most remarkable thing about it, by far, is the distinction that our beloved 77-year-old Robert Redford is the only human being in the entire motion picture. That’s right, when the end credits finally role, the only name you will see is that of our immortal Sundance kid. It’s all Bob. And he rises to the task marvelously. The 2013 Best Actor race is really on fire now with Bruce Dern of “Nebraska” and Chiwetel Ejifor” from “12 Years a Slave” joining Mr. Redford in a virtual 3-way tie in the race towards the Oscar statuette. What sets RR apart from the rest, however, is that he has no one to play off against—except inanimate objects and a few fish. It’s fascinating to watch him, and he’s long been an underrated actor having spent years acknowledged by his looks alone—and then later for his talent as a director. Make no mistake…he’s never been just an onscreen pretty boy. And any lingering non-believers need look no further than “All Is Lost”. It’s the patient, exacting performance of a consummate professional, displaying the skills of the trade he’s been practicing for over five decades. Watching him work is absolutely riveting.
Our Man(as Redford is billed in the closing credits)is adrift at sea in the Indian Ocean after a floating shipping trailer tears a hole in the side of his sail boat(the “Virginia Jean”). And it’s a battle to survive from the get go. All alone, with limited food and water, Our Man attempts to patch the hull damage, ride out vicious storms, radio for help, and push towards cargo shipping lanes, with limited successes and outright heart-braking failures. Eventually relying on an air-filled rubber raft, Our Man pushes forward while silently contemplating his life, his choices and his multiple mistakes. And you’ll have to watch Redford’s face to see it, because outside of a paragraph of opening narration, some S.O.S calls into a radio, a bit of yelling to a passing ship, and one perfectly timed profane expletive, the screenplay for “All Is Lost” barely contains a word. But there’s joy in watching Our Man think, ponder and deduce. And with a face gone wrinkled and craggy from years of desert sun, Redford commands our attention as we realize that he’s earned every line on his once golden blonde head.
“All Is Lost” is my second consecutive film after “Prisoners”, where I’ve been told that there is an “ambiguous” ending. Frankly, I don’t see it in either case. In one film a man clearly survives, and in the other he certainly expires. I wouldn’t dream of divulging which is which, but feel free to experience both and then follow through on the comment boards. I liked “All Is Lost” a great deal, but I’m positive it will prove to be a chore for many. The patience it takes to absorb something of this ilk is vanishing rapidly among the average multiplex attendee. What a shame that most will miss it. You’ll be denying yourself the witnessing of a master artisan, all alone on an aquatic stage, in perhaps the richest performance of his career. And there’s not a CGI tiger or a ball with a face painted on it to help him carry on at any point in the proceedings. J.C. Chandor has solidified his status with his second go-round as writer and director, and Robert Redford hasn’t smashed one into the lights like this since he was a ballplayer named Hobbs. Any complaints? I guess the score is a bit intrusive. But outside of that, it’s a rock solid one-man show . Grade: A-