Redford's performance won't get 'Lost' on critics

Robert Redford stars in "All is Lost."
December 15, 2013

Man’s romance with the sea is pared down to its most basic elements in “All is Lost.” There are no Somali pirates, no exotic animals sharing the boat, no volleyballs. It’s just a man, a failing sailboat, and a lot of will.

In an almost-wordless performance (after a few words in the beginning, his only utterances are “Help!” and an expletive), Robert Redford costars only with Mother Nature (turning in a tour-de-force performance with violent storms, mountainous waves, blistering heat and savage squalls). He has no name, we have no idea of his past, where he’s headed, his ties, his profession or anything else. We only know that he can afford a sweet yacht, which takes a hit in the opening moments from a wayward shipping container.

It leaves a nasty hole in the hull that cripples the vessel, but Redford’s character is seasoned enough to calmly break out the epoxy, patch it, jerry-rig a bilge pump (since the electricity was shorted) and zip across the water in an attempt to safely find land.

But the sea has other plans. A pitch-black patch of storm clouds envelops the boat, and angry waves snap its mast, putting a greater distance between Redford’s character and survival. He makes errors in his hasty attempt to survive each successive obstacle, but none feel as though they are obvious, plot-driven devices. They are spur-of-the moment maneuvers that even the crustiest of sailors could make under similar circumstances.

These stumbles give Redford’s character - and by default, the movie - a true sense of humanity that breathes in every scene. Written and directed by J.C. Chandor (nominated for an Oscar for the vastly underseen “Margin Call” a couple years back), “Lost” is a risky sell. Yet the film’s singular location, and lack of dialogue and supporting cast enhance this simple survival tale.

Obviously, it would not be even half the film were it not for the charisma of Redford leading us on this voyage. At 77, he wears his weathered skin like a badge of honor (still managing to look better than you even could on the cusp of 80). His visage looks as though it has seen its share of sun and salt air, but that, too, only lends more authenticity to the film. He manages to wordlessly capture each act of diminishing determination and desperation as the chances for survival slowly fade. It’s like a minimalist version of “The Grey.”

Redford always elevates the cinematic affairs with which he’s involved (even autopilot features such as “Lions for Lambs” and “The Clearing”), but it has been a long time since he’s felt this raw and real.

And even if the film may not always rise to the level of its star, Redford turns in an incredibly powerful, authentic and physical performance that will most likely not get “Lost” on critics when considering the best lead performances of the year this season.

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