Redford dominates ‘All is Lost,’ but is he too subtle for Oscar?

You’d think being in almost every frame of a movie would be a good way for an actor to snag the attention of Oscar voters, especially when that actor is Robert Redford. But when I saw “All is Lost” at the New York Film Festival, I was surprised to find the film is not really a performance showcase at all. Can Redford still win even without much of a character to play?

It’s unfair to fault the performance for what seems to be more the decision of writer-director J.C. Chandor. And maybe “fault” is the wrong word altogether, since the choice doesn’t make “All is Lost” less effective as a film, per se. But the main character – who is never named and is referred to in the credits only as “Our Man” – lacks dimension.

We don’t learn much about him, his past or personality, and his emotions range from stoic to … actually, that’s about it. Other than one brief moment of palpable despair, Redford doesn’t get many opportunities to flesh out his nameless sailor. And considering the other despairing roles in the Best Actor race, Tom Hanks (“Captain Phillips“) and Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave“) have him beat.

The problem is not his lack of dialogue. Jean Dujardin won for a silent role in “The Artist” in 2011, but that was a performance with a far greater emotional range. It’s also not a problem that Redford is alone on-screen, without co-stars to play off of. Hell, Sandra Bullock does the same thing for most of “Gravity,” which is also not an acting-centered film, but Alfonso Cuaron gives her a a more fully defined character. We empathize with her better than we can with Redford, who plays a man in peril, but is more or less anonymous.

And yet there’s still the fact that Redford is Redford, who despite being beloved has never won an Oscar for acting. Could that be enough for him to win against a number of showier performances? That has helped other lead-acting winners like Jeff Bridges (“Crazy Heart”), but it didn’t help Peter O’Toole when he earned his eighth Best Actor bid for “Venus” in 2006; he ended up losing to first-time nominee Forest Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland”). And with another overdue veteran in the mix this year (Bruce Dern in “Nebraska“), could that pull support from Redford?

Regardless of Redford’s chances, the film might find success in technical races. In particular, the film’s use of sound to convey the peril of ocean storms could pay off in sound mixing and sound editing categories. And with such little dialogue, Alex Ebert‘s music could be a factor in the race for Best Score; last year’s lost-at-sea drama, “Life of Pi,” also won for its music.

More News from GoldDerby