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ALL IS (not) LOST: A Robert Redford Appraisal

ALL IS (not) LOST: A Robert Redford Appraisal

by Victoria D. Whitmore


For those too young to know Robert Redford’s body of work, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER and some of his recent work in films might be misleading.

Only ALL IS LOST reveals Redford’s mastery of the acting craft, which in his early star-making career was so seemingly effortless it seemed easy.

Classically trained as an artist, Redford shines almost as an icon even as he recedes in the background in many films. But ALL IS LOST, tragically undervalued upon release, serves as a fitting coda to the do-it-all mountain man saga Redford excelled in, in films such as its immediate counterpoint, JEREMIAH JOHNSON.

In both, Redford barely speaks. In ALL IS LOST, except for one expletive and an opening monologue, he is completely wordless.

His drama is conveyed in facial expressions and movement. It is a wonder to behold.

The iconography of the world-tested but triumphant Redford at the end of his rope as he endures JOB-like trials on the water remains mesmerizing. The benefit of an Oscar-caliber screenplay by J C Chandor is that the resourceful Redford of THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR and JEREMIAH JOHNSON has his mettle unrelentingly tested.



But the lines of his still handsome ,sun-weathered face bespoke, if not wisdom, experience and a keen intelligence.

With no backstory, Redford’s character in ALL IS LOST, “The Man”, awakens to a flood on his sailboat.

Redford’s face registers a language and vocabulary all its own. There are few modern American masters in acting these days. Nicholson is one, Gene Hackman, Redford another.




The resolute, lone mountain man of JEREMIAH JOHNSON presaged Eastwood’s OUTLAW JOSEY WALES. Loners determined to go their own way nonetheless proved the need for other humans and the peace of friendship.

Similarly, like Eastwood’s UNFORGIVEN, JC Chandor’s ALL IS LOST describes the desolate futility of individualism. The resourceful man cannot abide alone. There will be trials and destruction in desolation. The lone wolf will need a pack. Loneliness and isolation will end in futility.

There are, of course, two perspectives to ALL IS LOST. Both see a kind of salvation, but one is ultimate. As Christian theology puts it, with “Christ”, all things are possible; without Him, all is lost. And as the last Johnny cash song foretells, he comes “in a Ring of Fire”.

In JEREMIAH JOHNSON and ALL IS LOST, Redford extends his hand – towards humanity…? , Towards salvation…?, Towards divinity…? One face is seen, one unseen. ALL IS LOST’s director assures that it is intentional and there are equally divided audiences as to which is the more hopeful.

In both films, Redford struggles against nature and man, both seemingly not random but divine trials. But both are securely rooted in the natural world, on God’s earthly plane. Big mountains, big sky, everlasting sea – nature with few hints of man, and what hints emerge are often untimely and unpredictable. The elements will dominate, though, throughout, the Redford protagonist will not succumb to them, but seek to triumph over their adversarial aspects, with a dogged determination so absolute it approaches legend, albeit conspicuously earthbound and realistic. It is a tribute to superb direction and Redford’s talent that nothing in either JEREMIAH JOHNSON or ALL IS LOST feels melodramatic or lacking in belief. The mundane everyday arrives laden with suspense and tension even in quiet moments.



And such is the story of Pioneer man and Modern man. Despite the abundance of technology, the essential man is tried and true and very much the same.

All is Redford.


His work in films like BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, THE STING, ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, DOWNHILL RACER, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR and THE CANDIDATE is clearly awesome, but so rarely is awesome rewarded that it becomes necessary to point out his gifts to both the uninitiated and to those who have followed his work for so long that they take him for granted. Couple this with his early directing work, ORDINARY PEOPLE, A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT, and QUIZ SHOW, his championing of the independent film movement with the Sundance Film Labs which were originally designed to help documentary and underrepresented filmmakers create powerful narrative films and you have a singularly unique vision and talent. Talent coupled with a conscience is not just rare; it is very rare and clearly not understood in this current critical entertainment environment. Because of his good looks and also because of his intelligence, he was not the ordinary Everyman, not always the hero. But what he brought to every one of these roles and what he personified in even the slightest of films was authenticity. And to be an authentic man in 21st Century America is to be something special.


August 22, 2014 - Posted by | CULTURE, FILM, opportunity, We Recommend | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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