Robert Redford Says Speaking Is Overrated, Keeps Quiet in ‘All Is Lost’

Mark Deming
Movie Talk
Robert Redford in 'All Is Lost'
Robert Redford in 'All Is Lost'

At the age of 76, Robert Redford is an actor who still thrives on a creative challenge — and he's been handed a huge one in his latest film "All Is Lost": Redford is the only actor on screen for an hour and forty-five minutes, and he says no more than a handful of words.

Redford is receiving rave reviews for his work in the shipwreck-themed drama — which debuted this week at the Cannes Film Festival. He plays an unnamed man piloting a yacht in the Indian Ocean, whose vessel is struck by a shipping container, tearing a hole in its hull. When the man finds his navigation equipment has failed as his yacht takes in water and a storm approaches, he's thrown into a life and death battle against the sea. Beyond a brief opening narration and a few angry shouts, Redford plays the role without dialogue.

Robert Redford at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday
Robert Redford at the Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday

Some performers would have been intimidated by not having dialogue to express themselves, but Redford told reporters at Cannes he enjoyed "the challenge of being solitary, alone, without having the crutch of words."

"I believe in the value of silence in film," Redford said. "I believe it in life as well, because there's a lot of talk around – maybe too much."

Redford is hardly the only actor of note to play a screen role with no dialogue – Samantha Morton did it in 1999's "Sweet and Lowdown," as did Alan Arkin in 1968's "The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter," and Jane Wyman won an Oscar without speaking a word in 1948's "Johnny Belinda." But Wyman, Arkin, and Morton all played characters who were mute – in "All Is Lost," Redford instead plays a man with no one to talk to, and his physical actions are the hook of the story, not words.

Judging from early reviews, Redford's near-silent performance is a gamble that's paying off handsomely for him as well as writer-director J.C. Chandor (this is his second film). Eric Kohn on IndieWire wrote, "Virtually each shot is a reminder, decades since Redford appeared onscreen in a truly challenging role, that he's one of America's great actors. 'All Is Lost' doesn't reinvent his appeal so much as amplify it." And Justin Chang in Variety called the film an "emotionally resonant one-man showcase for Robert Redford."

While a role like the lead in "All Is Lost" would be unusual for most actors, it's a particular change of pace for Redford, whose rich baritone voice has been used to strong advantage in movies like "The Horse Whisperer," "Indecent Proposal," "The Natural," "The Sting," and "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." Redford also served as the un-credited narrator for "A River Runs Through It."

And don't expect Redford to repeat this experiment anytime soon, as he should have plenty to say in his next two projects. Redford will be playing Agent Alexander Pierce, a high-ranking member of crime-fighting coalition S.H.I.E.L.D. in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier," and he'll be exchanging dialogue with Nick Nolte in a film adaptation of "A Walk In The Woods," Bill Bryson's hilarious memoir of hiking the Appalachian trail with an eccentric buddy.