All Is Lost

STARRING: Robert Redford



You’ve probably heard that Robert Redford gives his career best performance this year in All Is Lost. It’s certainly his most daring piece, as any piece would be where you are the only person in the cast. Add on top the fact that he spends the whole movie battling the elements at sea, in a largely dialogue free film, and you’ve got the makings of a career best performance. But let’s not be hasty. This is not Channing Tatum we’re talking about, or Chris Evans. This is Robert Freaking Redford. Yes, the Academy hasn’t been kind to him (he’s only been nominated once for acting, for The Sting), but his body of work is recognized beyond the Academy.

Take for example his role in All The President’s Men, a domestic espionage thriller that still holds up today. Or Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Ordinary People. The Candidate. The Great Gatsby. The Natural. Out Of Africa. Indecent Proposal. The Horse Whisperer. The Clearing. Robert Redford has had a career that would be envied by even the most Oscar nominated Actor. So when you throw around terms like “career best”, you’d better make damn sure this is his finest work. For me, it’s not, but it certainly can join the list of the aforementioned films.

Director JC Chandor, who made a splash with his debut film Margin Call, makes a bold decision to direct Redford as a man lost at sea. He’s a character without a name, without a backstory, and almost entirely without dialogue. There’s a tad bit of narration at the beginning, a scene where he tries to talk into a radio, and a few attempts at shouting at passing by ships. Oh, and one giant “FUCK!”. Otherwise, it’s really just Redford staring into the camera, and making difficult life choices.

My problem with Redford is that he’s so calm and collected throughout the whole film. Even near the end, panic never truly seems to set in. I felt the desperation once, during one scene, and then he lost it. For all of the things his nameless character faces in this film, he remains oddly stoic, offering the audience a gentle soothing calmness in his performance. Is as if to say that Redford’s character choice was “I just want the audience to know everything will be OK.” We don’t need to know that, Bob. You’re being thrashed around at sea, thrown under water, clinging on to a small shred of life, and we’re saying it’s OK to have a mental breakdown. It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to let yourself go on camera, but he never really does.

For me, that’s why it is just another “good” Redford performance, because he never seemed to really emotionally invest in the character on screen. In a year where Matthew McConaughey went all in for Dallas Buyers Club, Redford put all of his trust in JC Chandor’s storytelling, and didn’t compliment it with dynamic, game changing acting. His acting is merely sufficient for most of the film. Chandor really rises to the occasion with a beautifully shot film, written by someone who clearly has done their research for this scenario. The details are everything.

The fact that Redford, at his age, was willing to commit to such a physically demanding performance is why he’s getting all the awards attention. It’s not because Redford truly lost himself in this role, or stretched himself beyond the current comprehension of what it means to see a Robert Redford performance on screen. All Is Lost is a good film, and definitely one worth watching, but I can’t help but think it could have been a great one if Redford had just showed us his soul.


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