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Redford's silent role provides physical challenge in 'All is Lost'

James Robinso, Houston Chronicle
Published 12:18 pm, Friday, November 1, 2013
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  • Robert Redford en una escena de la pelé­cula de J.C. Chandor
  • NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 08:  Robert Redford attends the
  • Robert Redford stars in J.C. Chandoré•s ALL IS LOST

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Through all 106 minutes of "All Is Lost," audiences get one large, uninterrupted dose of Robert Redford, with the actor cast as an unnamed man lost at sea, battling the elements after his boat strikes a rogue shipping container in the film's opening moments.

Redford takes many hits in the movie. Throughout, we see him in his small boat, bandied around cruelly by the sea, clambering desperately around his own crumbling vessel.

It was a relentlessly physical role to film, Redford said on the phone from New York, and easily the most demanding movie he's made since "Jeremiah Johnson" in 1972. Admirably, 40 years later, now well past retirement age, Redford said that he declined to use a stuntman.

"It's just me onscreen," Redford said, laughing.

The idea of "All Is Lost" intrigued Redford from the outset. The script, just 30 pages long, arrived to him in 2012. "It looked like a series of storyboards," he said.

Writer and director J.C. Chandor was known to Redford, but the two had never met. Chandor had opened his 2011 critical-hit "Margin Call" at the Sundance Film Festival and Redford was intrigued at the stark contrast in the two movies.

"Here's a guy that went from such a dialogue-heavy movie to something with no dialogue. It was interesting. I thought to myself, 'I want to meet this guy,' " Redford said.

Redford was taken with Chandor when they met. "I trusted his vision and I wanted to give myself to this guy. I wanted to be an actor and completely that."

"All Is Lost" features only one brief moment of dialogue. Redford, whose charm is its own cultural icon, is silent for the entire film. A series of smaller moments cue the audience to Redford's state of mind, but even these are downplayed.

"I've never been one for overacting," Redford said. The circumstances behind making "All is Lost" helped him out. Filming took place in the stage tanks in Rosarito, Mexico, that James Cameron built for "Titanic" and out on the open sea south of San Diego. Thrashing about in the water, alone with Chandor, Redford felt that the goal was trying only to live in each moment.

"I didn't need to do the extra stuff. I had no time to think, filming this. There's so much drama, it's so intense, I'm tossed all over the place. There's no time to consider your performance."

Redford's character is left vague. The audience is made aware of a sense of regret and a fight to live, that he is on the seas as a response to something that has happened to him, but we are not given a hint of a backstory, or even a name to cling to.

For Redford, this unique approach to story and character made it a chance to do something totally different.

"It's a really pure, pure piece of cinema," he said.

The open-ended nature of "All Is Lost" leaves audiences to draw their own conclusions as to its meaning. There's no deliberate allegory in the film, but Redford said that part of the strength of the movie is that it doesn't spell out anything.

"I like that the audience is left to interpret it," he said. "It is existential. My character encounters things in the movie that are so impossible. Many people would quit. Why does this man keep going? It raises an idea that, at a certain point, continuing is the only thing you have left."

Opening so soon after "Gravity" stormed the box office, "All Is Lost" is destined to be compared to that film's lost-at-sea equivalent, the two movies placing heavy emphasis on the insignificance of humanity in the context of the universe.

Redford said he hadn't seen "Gravity," but in the case of "All Is Lost," at least, with his character struggling against a constantly worsening set of circumstances on the open seas, he offered his own spin on the idea of insignificance.

"In the wider sphere of things, we're insignificant. There's not a lot I can do about Syria, or the political breakdown that's crippling our country," Redford said.

"But there is something I can do to just keep fighting whatever lies in front of me."

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