Men of steel and iron have grunted at the multiplex, but you’re not going to see an image as tough or elemental—as goddamned manly—as that of Robert Redford coolly staring down a mirror and shaving while a storm begins to pound his sailboat to smithereens. All Is Lost is a survival movie, an especially pure one at that. Apart from a brief spoken prologue (and a well-earned profanity mid-plight), it has no words, just one actor, plus a beautiful 39-foot Cal yacht that suffers a heart-wrenching puncture from a wayward shipping container.
But as “Our Man” (seriously, that’s how he’s credited) tends to the gaping hole and breaks out the foul-weather gear, a quiet piece of performance magic coalesces. The bits of business, confidently handled by Redford like the saltiest sea dog, are absorbing in themselves. But what’s the guy doing cruising by himself weeks off the coast of Africa? When he breaks out a nautical sextant still in the box, why does he linger at the unopened gift card? For keen viewers, the smallest gesture adds immeasurably to the abstract mystery of this loner: Redford, already a giant, has never been more suggestive. His character’s misadventure—expertly streamlined by Margin Call’s J.C. Chandor, clearly nurturing an inner minimalist—might be a kind of cosmic penance. It’s the salvation of the moviegoing year.
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