Men of steel and iron have grunted their way through blockbusters. But you’re not going to see anything as tough – or as goddamned manly – as Robert Redford coolly staring into a mirror shaving while a storm pounds his sailboat to smithereens. ‘All Is Lost’ is a survival movie, an especially pure one at that. Apart from a brief spoken introduction (and a well-earned mid-plight swear), it has no words, just one actor – plus a beautiful 39-foot yacht that suffers a heart-wrenching puncture from a wayward shipping container.
But as ‘Our Man’ (seriously, that’s how Redford is credited) tends to the gaping hole, a piece of performance magic comes together. The bits of business, confidently handled by Redford like the saltiest of sea dogs, 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 over the gift card? For keen viewers, the smallest gesture adds to the mystery of this loner. Redford, already a giant, has never been better. His character’s misadventure might be a kind of cosmic penance. It’s definitely the salvation of the moviegoing year.