“Chandor and Redford Get ‘Lost’”

“All Is Lost”
Robert Redford
Directed by J.C. Chandor

If actions speak louder than words, then “All Is Lost” sure has a lot to say – and it says it all quite beautifully. Despite having almost no dialogue, no conventional set-up and no formulaic flashbacks, writer-director J.C. Chandor’s intense follow-up to 2011’s “Margin Call” ultimately succeeds as a mesmerizing, compelling and deeply profound high-seas adventure in which big screen legend Robert Redford gives one of the most fulfilling and rewarding performances of his career.

From the moment the film begins, Redford plays a lone sailor who is dying. Or rather, his lifeline – his 39-foot yacht, the Virginia Dean – is dying after its hull is penetrated by floating debris in the middle of the Indian Ocean. With water pouring in that knocks out power for operations, navigations and communications, the mariner springs into action in an effort to repair his vessel and sail to safety. But with supplies running low, his boat further deteriorating, the onset of physical exhaustion and the threat of a powerful storm looming on the horizon, the desperate voyager looks into the abyss, and with nothing staring back, that’s when he finds his character.

Sailing into theaters just two weeks after the trailblazing special effects sensation known as “Gravity” blasted off with a bravura performance from Sandra Bullock, “All Is Lost” brings the virtual “one-person-show” premise back down to earth with a more grounded filmmaking approach that echoes Ernest Hemingway’s classic novel “The Old Man and the Sea.” But despite a relatively shoestring budget of just $8.9 million, it turns out to be just as spiritually engrossing as that $100 million-budgeted extravaganza.

That’s because just like Bullock’s astronaut in “Gravity,” the resilient sailor in “All Is Lost” defies the odds and finds the will to survive, despite having to endure one soul-crushing setback after another. It hardly matters that we don’t know where he is from, why he is out there by himself or even his name (indeed, he is referred to only as “Our Man” in the ending credits) – all that matters is that he does survive, and through his practical and resourceful efforts to do so, he will find out what he is really made of.

“All Is Lost” also continues what’s turning out to be a relatively new cinematic tradition: movies that focus one person’s struggle to survive in the face of incredible odds. But where sea-bound dramas like 2000’s “Cast Away” and last year’s “Life of Pi” tugged at the heartstrings when their protagonists bonded with – of all things – a volleyball and a Bengal tiger, respectively, Redford’s only companion here is Mother Nature, whose relentless and unforgiving power will push him to the brink.

At 77-years-old, Robert Redford has become an elder statesman of cinema, balancing his yearly duties as the public face of the Sundance Film Festival with occasional turns in front of and behind the camera (though his last directorial effort, “The Company You Keep,” wasn’t in good company with either critics or moviegoers). But thanks to director J.C. Chandor’s bold, daring and remarkable adventure, “All Is Lost” finds Redford at the top of his game with a truly Oscar-worthy performance, and he pulls it off without really saying a thing. And it makes perfect sense, since actions speak louder than words.

-Scott Mantz