If Robert Redford wins Best Actor for "All Is Lost," it will be out of sentiment and admiration for his courage rather than for the performance itself.
The 77-year-old veteran is solid in this tale of a lone yachtsman on a wrecked boat in the Indian Ocean; but there's no way his work outdoes such other likely nominees as Tom Hanks, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Bruce Dern.
The movie itself also left me somewhat cold; again, admirable and craftsman-like, but hardly deserving the rave reviews both it and Redford have enjoyed.
Robert Redford’s character faces insurmountable odds at sea in “All Is Lost.”
Perhaps I've simply been through too many "survival-at-sea" stories (the most recent, Laura Hillenbrand's "Unbroken," is being adapted by Angelina Jolie and the Coen brothers).
Or maybe last year's "The Impossible" set a dizzying benchmark for the "can-you-believe-what-they-went-through" subgenre.
In any case, the more substantial problem with "All Is Lost" is that it doesn't maintain the courage of its own convictions.
The movie wants to set itself apart by providing no backstory on its hero, a nameless sailor about whom we know nothing except that his boat has been holed by a wayward shipping container (which happens in the first scene) - and that he has enough calm determination for any six normal people; this we learn when the fixed gash reopens in a monsoon that also sheers off the mast and capsizes the craft, doing so much damage that he's eventually forced into an inflatable raft.
Problem No. 1 is that the film has a flashback structure, opening with a farewell note in which the character apologizes repeatedly. To whom? And for what? Frankly, this tantalizing bit of backstory is worse than none; among other things, it betrays the film's decision to leave Redford a cipher.
Problem No. 2: In keeping with its title, the story wants to strip Redford of everything that might make his plight remotely survivable; it's a brutally depressing film, and it sometimes feels manipulative in the way things always go from bad to worse.
But again, this grim tone is betrayed by the ending, which feels like a cop-out either way you read it.
Well, I guess that's a lot of negative comment on a decent film that I've awarded three stars.
Its strengths include fine, restrained photography and music, plus Redford's work, which is remarkable for its silence and solitude; he is the film's sole actor, and he speaks only four times.
The actor's courage parallels that of his character, as this former sex symbol spends much of the film looking worn-out, scarred and starved - not to mention much gutsy stunt work, including the capsize scenes, which are filmed inside the boat.
Like most of the action here, these sequences are gut-wrenchingly real; I can't say I've ever seen anything like it, with the possible exception of Buster Keaton's 1921 short "The Boat."
If only critics had raved about him this way while he was still alive.
3 out of 4 stars.
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language.