Robert Redford has had one of the greatest and most interesting careers in Hollywood history, starring in iconic movies like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and All the President’s Men, directing movies like Ordinary People, and making the Sundance Film Festival the premiere indie showcase. So it’s really a surprise to some when they discover that he’s only been nominated for one Academy Award for his acting (The Sting). That could change this year with All is Lost, a daring cinematic and acting challenge that places Redford’s mariner at the center of a looming ocean disaster. He plays a man whose sailboat becomes crippled as he battles one deep-sea misfortune after another.
Like his character, Redford is alone in the film. There are no other characters. There are no pet dogs, or flashbacks, or video-camera confessions. There is hardly any dialogue. The movie is Redford fighting the elements with every ounce of his strength. With so much riding on the audience’s relationship with the unnamed main character, who writer/director J.C. Chandor simply refers to as Our Man in the script, casting someone with Redford’s history on film turned out to be essential. “There are so many similarities between the Redford persona, Redford the actual person he is on the planet, and then the performances that he’s given,” says Chandor. “Obviously, that’s sort of his biggest weakness, it almost seems: people have a hard time disconnecting all three of those things from each other. What I thought I was going to be able to do in this movie was use that weakness as a strength. So instead of just ignoring that relationship the audience has with him, I want you to have it but then I want you to forget it a couple of minutes into the movie — but subconsciously it’s always going to be there.”
At Cannes, where the film premiered in May, Redford’s performance generated some early Oscar buzz, validating Chandor’s gamble of a sparse 30-page script with virtually no dialogue. “I wasn’t 100 percent positive that this was going to work,” he says. “We had some scary days when we were finishing up the film, where we were all kind of like looking around with our distributors and kind of going, ‘Is this it? Is this the movie?’ By that point, I felt very very strongly that it was. An older guy in the latter stages of his life, and I just felt like that was the best version of this movie.”
All is Lost will make its American debut at the Telluride Film Festival this weekend before opening in theaters on Oct. 18.