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Aged movie star Robert Redford has the screen to himself in desperate battle to survive

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Redford tries to stay alive when his sailboat hits a drifting container in the Indian Ocean.

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Redford tries to stay alive when his sailboat hits a drifting container in the Indian Ocean.

Even as the paterfamilias of the indie film mecca that is the Sundance Film Festival, Robert Redford makes an unusual star for a movie as unconventional, minimalist and dialogue-free as All Is Lost.

Notwithstanding his affiliation to Sundance-style innovation and experimentation, Redford has always impressed as an old-fashioned kind of movie star, with an acting style owing to the James Cagney dictum of "Look the other fella in the eye and tell the truth."

Redford's best moments in film have always been in repartee -- trading barbs with Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting, engaging in love-fuelled dust-ups with Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were and bouncing journalistic banter off Dustin Hoffman in All the President's Men.

At the age of 77, Redford has the screen to himself in writer-director J.C. Chandor's survival story. In the role of "Our Man," Redford stays busy with the business of trying to stay alive when his sailboat smacks into a large drifting container in the middle of the Indian Ocean. The casualties are the communications devices.

From there, the movie proceeds like a protracted, one-man Titanic, as Redford's character contends with escalating challenges, including a storm at sea, further damage to the vessel and an ever-diminishing supply of fresh water.

There is only a hint of a back story, suggesting this sailor has been reckless or selfish in his later years: His letter to his unspecified loved ones takes the form of an apology.

For the rest, this is a pure survival movie, somewhat diminished by the fact that our man is equipped with an Cabela's store's worth of useful implements.

Chandor, who made the excellent financial disaster movie Margin Call, directs the film wisely, with only a few big visual effects and a slow but compelling build to our hero's ultimate crisis.

Redford's presence doesn't actually help Chandor's cause, however. While his athletic exploits are impressive, his performance is, frankly, overly considered and unnatural. Redford can't help playing to the camera, and here, that tendency carries a whiff of desperation, as if he was relying on his star quality to keep our eyes fixed on his desperate exploits.

If you want to see Robert Redford spend a movie in a desperate struggle for survival, seek out the 1972 mountain-man adventure Jeremiah Johnson.

It's an old-fashioned kind of movie, and very much in Robert Redford's wheelhouse.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 25, 2013 D1

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Updated on Friday, October 25, 2013 at 6:54 AM CDT: adds photo

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