Arts & Culture

One-man show ‘All is Lost’ takes the Avon

The film features Oscar winner Robert Redford, who battles for survival against the elements

Contributing Writer
Monday, October 28, 2013

Hollywood is in the age of the ensemble cast. One need only look at a critic’s shortlist of upcoming films to see that — together, “American Hustle,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “The Monuments Men” feature 14 actors previously nominated for Oscars. It is almost inconceivable that a movie today would have only one actor, a 77 year old with fewer than 50 words throughout the film, no less.

But that is exactly the case in “All is Lost,” the current feature film at the Avon. The actor in question is Robert Redford, an Oscar winner used to sharing the screen with fellow lauded actors like Paul Newman, Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman. But here, director J.C. Chandler rewards Redford with the screen for the entire film, and Redford delivers in what may be one of the most notable performances of his illustrious career.

Gone are the dashing good looks of Redford’s “Sundance Kid” days. But they have been replaced by a face whose expressions are simultaneously world-weary and intelligent and guide audiences through an hour and 45 minutes of humanity stripped to its most basic elements: a man and his environment.

Redford — who might as well be playing himself, as his character has no name or backstory — spends the film confronting nature one-on-one. His boat has sprung a leak, and with no help available, survival depends on his determination as he floats along, running lower on supplies with each passing day.

Redford’s every move displays the control he retains, even as nature confronts him with its worst. He responds to the simplicity of the story, lack of dialogue and fellow castmembers with skill, giving personality to a voiceless character through planned gestures and careful expressions.

What is remarkable is how outbursts of nature — the sole antagonist in a film where the main character reveals no inner demon — surprise viewers for the duration, despite their commonality in disaster films.

Comparisons will surely arise between “All is Lost” and prior genre films, most noticeably “Cast Away,” in which Tom Hanks similarly filled the screen for nearly the entire movie. As in “Cast Away,” some may tire of the single character narrative before the film runs its course.

Redford transcends the genre in his unwavering stoicism, a trait that has always epitomized male acting in Hollywood. One may wish Chandler had considered casting a female for the role for that very reason — it could have made a ground-breaking gender statement, easily implemented without any characterization restrictions.

But Chandler shows off his unique vision in other ways. With all the hype Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” received for its shots of space, it is likely, and unfair, that the portrayal of the ocean in “All is Lost” will not gain sufficient praise. The visuals are gorgeous throughout and downright awe-inspiring when the camera turns its attention to the water’s scope — not since “Finding Nemo” has the sheer mass of the ocean been so frightening.

The underwater world is its own entity, simultaneously conjoined and totally separate from the air above it. The movie’s most magical moments occur when Redford gathers his belongings from the swamped cabin — the juxtaposition between his hands under the surface and his face above delights in the fine line between life and a watery grave.

In this way, the film directly parallels “Gravity” in an ocean setting. But where “Gravity” reinvented the role visuals can play in a movie — these visuals are Cuaron’s main character — Chandler reinvents the importance of narrative. No bells and whistles are needed in his story of a man struggling to maintain his life and humanity in a hostile environment.

While the Academy decides which style — if either — is awards-worthy, audiences at the Avon will be treated to plenty of opportunities for their own Oscar debates, with much anticipated hopefuls like “12 Years a Slave,” “Nebraska” and “Dallas Buyers Club” coming soon. Good or bad, it’s that time of year.

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  1. I definitely want to see this movie.

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