It shouldn't work at all, and yet it does, splendidly. Robert Redford, utterly magnificent and giving a virtuoso performance, is alone onscreen. That's right. Alone. In Gravity, Sandra Bullock has George Clooney for company in space. Even Life of Pi had a tiger. Redford has no one. There is Virginia Jean, but she's a boat, a 39-footer that Redford's unnamed character is sailing in the Indian Ocean. Then a floating shipping container rips a hole in the hull. Redford's got trouble. And we've got a movie, a thrilling, nail-biting, pulse-racing adventure at sea that takes the measure of a man.
All Is Lost is only the second feature from writer-director J.C. Chandor, whose smashing 2011 debut, Margin Call, took the measure of men in suits tackling investment banking. In his latest triumph, it's just Chandor, 39, putting Redford, 77, through stunts that would shake up the Jackass crew.
Wind, rain, storms, sharks and panic beset this sailor, especially when a life raft becomes his last resort. Everything but dialogue, which is virtually absent. No flashbacks. No backstory. And yet Redford, who can play intelligence, wit and nuance to a camera like nobody's business, holds us in his grip. It's a master class in acting.