There’s a running gag among the media regarding Robert Redford’s lack of punctuality – he’s always seemed to take a perverse pleasure in letting the press cool its collective heels. So there wasn’t a lot of surprise in the room at the New York Film Festival Tuesday morning when critic Amy Taubin and director J.C. Chandor were left by their lonesomes, on stage at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, waiting for Redford to appear at the post-screening press conference for Chandor’s “All Is Lost” — the one-man-Redford show about a sailor lost at sea, and which could – could – be the film that earns the actor his late-inning Oscar.
Redford did, eventually, emerge from the wings (Chandor said the two of them had not landed in New York till 2 a.m. or so) and then he dove right in. “What do you want to know?” the star asked, fielding questions and firing back thoughtful answers about the Chandor-scripted saga, in which the principal (and only) character doesn’t mutter more than a couple of words, but is a well-spring of emotion as he tries to survive a collision with a flotsammed shipping container that’s punched a hole in the side of his boat. As desolate as the title is, and as desperate as the plotline sounds, its 107 minutes fly by like a cargo ship that can’t hear your SOS.
Chandor said the 31-page script is basically the same as what appears on screen; Redford said it was his director’s attention to detail – the mechanics of sailing, the minutiae of seafaring, the compass, the sextant, the lifeboat, the life-giving capacity of condensation — that won him over, and convinced him to do a movie that, without his participation, would have seemed an unlikely prospect.
“It was one of those rare occurrences,” Redford said, “when I really went on vibe and instinct. A lot of it had to do with trust. I just had to know he wasn’t nuts…”
Chandor said the lack of a backstory– a voiceover introduces Redford’s character writing his family a good-bye note, but both the beginning and ending are ambiguous at best – had to do with Redford’s attraction to the vague and “existential” quality of the storyline and the role. For his part, Redford said he tried to pin Chandor down about the character. “He was pretty evasive,” Redford said. “I thought ‘huh.’ But I was only asking because I thought I ought to.”