Many movies can be called "the story of one man," but the phrase applies literally to "All Is Lost." Its acting credits may be the shortest in history: Robert Redford. That's it.
If you have room for only one actor, might as well pick a legend. Even at the age of 77, Redford can command a screen, and he's the main reason to watch this man-against-nature story. It's tense and gripping throughout, though in the end you may wish that this minimalist movie had more to offer.
Redford plays an unnamed sailor -- the credits call him Our Man -- whose 39-foot yacht strikes a stray shipping container (maddeningly full of floating sneakers) in the Indian Ocean. Water floods the boat, kills the radio and ends all contact with civilization. Calmly, Redford begins patching the leak and reading "Celestial Navigation for Yachtsmen." Nature, however, has other plans.
As Redford struggles against storms, failing equipment and plain bad luck, "All Is Lost" hints at a larger picture. We infer that Redford has a wife -- his yacht is named the Virginia Jean -- and children. We also sense, from his walnut-paneled boat and store of good Scotch, that a very nice life is at risk here. The actor conveys that, too. It's easy to imagine Redford's golden-haired WASP in 1973's "The Way We Were" aging into this well-groomed sea lion.
Perhaps unintentionally, "All Is Lost" echoes other recent survival movies. "Life of Pi," about a boy in a lifeboat, comes to mind, as does "Gravity," which unfolds in the ocean of outer space. Unexpectedly, so does "Captain Phillips," set largely on the kind of Maersk cargo vessel that churns into Redford's view. After all, who's responsible for that cursed shipping container? Is it a stretch to say that both movies question the consequences of globalization?
"All Is Lost" is the polar opposite of writer-director J.C. Chandor's previous film, "Margin Call," a star-stacked, overly talky drama about Wall Street. That film said too much, while this one doesn't quite say enough. Chandor, clearly an ambitious filmmaker, may yet get the balance right.
PLOT A lone sailor struggles to survive in the Indian Ocean.
RATING PG-13 (brief language, peril)
CAST Robert Redford
BOTTOM LINE Redford can still command a screen, even when he's the only one on it. But you might wish this minimalist movie had a little more to offer.
ROBERT REDFORD'S 10 TOP-GROSSING FILMS
Robert Redford's "All Is Lost" has received mostly terrific reviews, but will the unconventional drama be enough of a box-office success to join the actor's other top-grossing movies?
1. The Sting (1973) -- $717,600,000
2. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) -- $567,990,700
3. All the President's Men (1976) -- $266,821,600
4. Indecent Proposal (1993) -- $207,305,100
5. The Way We Were (1973) -- $204,661,000
6. The Electric Horseman (1979) -- $198,209,500
7. Out of Africa (1985) -- $189,677,000
8. A Bridge Too Far (1977) -- 183,200,700
9. The Horse Whisperer (1998) -- $129,389,700
10. The Natural (1984) -- $114,884,900
Source: boxoffice mojo.com (Lifetime grosses are adjusted for ticket-price inflation.)