Fate strands Robert Redford at sea in a leaky boat in the solitary drama. (Daniel Daza)
He’s a man. In a boat. Far out at sea. The boat is sinking.
That’s the bare-bones reality of “All Is Lost,” likely the most elemental and straightforward disaster film ever made. It offers 77-year-old Robert Redford a unique acting opportunity, and he makes the most of it with a marvelously focused, tight performance.
Aside from the opening recitation of a letter — to whom? — acknowledging his seeming impending doom, Redford barely speaks in the film. We have no idea who he is, what his background might be, what he’s doing or where he was going. He’s simply a human being in dire circumstance.
As the film begins, his boat bangs into a huge, abandoned metal shipping crate bobbing on the ocean. A hole is torn in the hull and water starts creeping in. The man takes stock of his situation and patiently mends his boat, eventually staving off the water.
And then comes a storm, which batters the wounded boat again. And the drift is established — this guy is in a battle with fate and nature. He tries to guide his craft toward shipping lanes so someone might notice his plight, but he’s seemingly invisible. Yet still he perseveres.
Writer-director J.C. Chandor is obviously fascinated with crisis. His first film, “Margin Call,” dealt with a bank’s employees as they faced financial meltdown. Here he’s gone from a huge network to the ultra-individual, but it’s still a tale of calamity.
Redford keeps the man as cool as can be; there’s no sense in temper tantrums or cries against the wind. Eventually, even the effort to survive becomes questionable. We are all isolated, we all succumb at some point. “All Is Lost” studies that point.
'All Is Lost'
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language
Running time: 106 minutes