Thursday, November 7, 2013

Redford Ramps Up His Reputation


Spoiler Alert: “All is Lost.”

That’s all you need to know about Robert Redford’s one man-against-the-sea struggle.

Star Robert Redford is heard uttering those words in a voiceover prologue to writer-director J.C. Chandor’s drama of survival. Chandor made his impressive debut in 2011 with the Wall Street melodrama Margin Call.
Nonetheless, and with any actor other than Redford at the helm of this escape from peril, All Is Lost might not interest us at all.

But it is Robert Redford -- an American film icon at age 77 -- who pointedly and proudly displays his wrinkles and blemishes, putting himself through the proverbial ringer as the unnamed solo sailor of a 39-foot sailboat, out somewhere in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and the Somali Straits.

Why the character would undertake such a perilous journey at any age (let alone 77) is never explained, nor is there any background as to his family, friends or previous life. He is just there, and just as inexplicably his boat rams a large metal container of sneakers, followed by much water pouring in from the resulting gash.

The water makes quick work of the vessel’s electronics, but luckily our man seems to have memorized the Boy Scout manual. With no power and no means of communication, Redford improvises with an old-fashioned sextant, charts and celestial reckoning. Our man also had the foresight to carry fiberglass cloth and resin to make a temporary repair. He even improvises a desalinization process and gets a fish strike on a hand-line, prompting temporary joy.

But wait – a huge storm imperils him further.  The boat again takes on water and our man is reduced to floating helplessly in an inflatable life raft, drifting tantalizingly close to huge container ships in the shipping lanes.

Robert Redford has never won a Best Actor Academy Award . Clearly this is his best shot -- with scowls, grimaces, ah-ha moments and expressions of defeat and despair conveying the range of his hopes, fears and frustrations mutely but powerfully.

“All is Lost” got a standing ovation at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. It remains to be seen if the American public will appreciate this existential Kabuki theater as well – but I think Redford deserves an Oscar nomination at the very least.

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