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Robert Redford is Mesmerizing in the Haunting “All is Lost”

November 20, 2013

By John Corrado

All is Lost PosterRobert Redford delivers a mesmerizing performance in All is Lost, a haunting and beautifully filmed work that provides a unique moviegoing experience, which has been gaining buzz since first premiering at Cannes.  The film opened back on October 18th and is still playing in limited release.

When we first meet Our Man (Robert Redford), he is asleep on his small boat the Virginia Jean, when he awakens to find the lower deck flooded.  There are shoes floating in the water, and a hole has been ripped in the side of his hull by a mysterious shipping crate that seems to have appeared out of nowhere.  He finally steers away from the container and does his best to patch the hole, but then he is faced with an epic storm that threatens to collide with his vessel and wash away the small mark he has left on the world.

At 77 years old, Robert Redford could easily earn a Best Actor nomination for this role, his first recognition in that category since The Sting some forty years ago.  Although the veteran actor picked up an Oscar for directing the masterful drama Ordinary People back in 1980, he has shockingly never won for one of his performances.  But 2013 has been such a strong year for acting in general, that whether or not this will finally be his moment in the spotlight is still up in the air.  This is a performance that plays in perfect harmony with the direction of J.C. Chandor and the music of Alex Ebert, anchoring this ambitious and deceptively simple artistic achievement.

Although All is Lost could be described as thematically similar to other recent films like Gravity and Captain Phillips which are also among the best of the year, this is a much more minimalistic study of survival and facing mortality.  Robert Redford commands the screen, evoking the emotions and struggles of his unnamed character through facial expressions and actions that suggest a resilience to the elements that are so clearly against him.  Aside from a beautifully ambiguous voiceover that opens the film and a few moments of verbalized distress, this is a tour de force performance that is built solely around what he physically brings to the screen.

The ingenuity and survival instincts of Our Man never waver, even as his remaining possessions start to slip away.  He keeps his faith, a belief that he will be rescued, and possibly also in a higher power.  The opening narration could be interpreted as a letter written to whatever loved ones he has left behind, but for me it represents a prayer, asking and even begging for forgiveness.  “I’m sorry” are the words that he keeps repeating, and one of the few moments of actual dialogue is an elongated swear word, shouted up towards the sky.  How you interpret the perfectly framed and deeply resonant final scene will depend on what beliefs you personally bring to the film.

The simple story of All is Lost is deeply allegorical, providing haunting metaphors of faith and letting go, survival and slipping away.  This is a quietly moving story of a man struggling to stay alive, that allows us to project our own beliefs and emotions onto the screen, as the main character is taken on a uniquely singular spiritual journey.

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