“All Is Lost,” with Robert Redford in a revelatory performance, opens on a mournful note. Redford’s unnamed character, in voiceover, makes an act of contrition: “I tried to be true, to be strong, to love … to be right. But I wasn’t. All is lost here, except soul and body… I fought till the end. I will miss you. I’m sorry.”
An odd beginning for such a bracing nautical adventure. But maybe not. In what can only be likened to a sinewy Hemingway-esque narrative ‒ think “Old Man and the Sea” by way of “The Perfect Storm” ‒ Redford plays a sailor who, when his yacht snags a shipping container, finds himself adrift in the Indian Ocean, without engine or radio. He’s alone and seems to like it that way. He methodically ties his boat to the flotsam, dispatches a sea anchor, manually pumps out the bilge, patches the side and attempts to resurrect the radio for a distress call.
“All Is Lost,” directed and written by J. C. Candor, is my kind of movie. It has no dialogue to speak of, save for that brief spoken prologue and a single bellowed expletive. In other words, it’s what a great movie should be, elemental, spare, completely visual, the polar opposite of Candor’s talky boardroom thriller “Margin Call.” The director casts us adrift with his unfortunate wayfarer. His minor triumphs, such as rigging a desalinating device, are ours. So too are his grim setbacks. We can taste the bitterness. We can hear the horselaughs from on high when the sailor is taunted by fate and deliverance once again turns into disappointment. There are traces of Joseph Conrad’s “Lord Jim” here.
The craggy-faced Redford at age 77 somehow delivers the performance of his career. This is certainly his most physical work in front of the camera since “Downhill Racer” and “Jeremiah Johnson.” We know little about the sailor but, then, thanks to the actor’s studied gaze and pressed lips, we can surmise a great deal. For starters, that this man is a self-centered loner who has slowly, inexorably been making his way toward this rendezvous with nature at her most unforgiving. The ring on his finger and the name of the boat (Virginia Jean) suggest a family. And a reason, beyond basic survival instinct, to fight on.
Pay particular attention to Alex Ebert’s score. It’s a simple, plaintive brass refrain, which echoes the sailor’s sense of awe and isolation.
ALL IS LOST ✮✮✮✮ With Robert Redford, Directed, written by J. C. Candor. 106 minutes. PG-13 (slight profanity, blood from injuries)Glenn Lovell, former film critic of the San Jose Mercury News, posts his reviews at CinemaDope.com