DVD Release Date: February 11, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: October 18 limited, 2013; expands through November
Rating: PG-13 (for peril, brief strong language)
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 106 min
Directors: J.C. Chandor
Cast: Robert Redford

If you're going to stare at just one person for over 100 minutes in the midst of a life-and-death struggle – one that swings from violent turbulence to tranquil hopelessness – it might as well be Robert Redford (The Company You Keep). Not just because he makes it compelling (although he does, in a modestly Herculean performance, if there is such a thing), but he's able to reveal the deeper nature of a piece that, narratively speaking, explicitly avoids commentary and definition.

Contemporary cinema has given us some rather remarkable one-man survival tales. From Cast Away to 127 Hours to Life of Pi, Hollywood has created absorbing character studies that have also boasted spectacular and surprisingly inventive (even award-winning) moviemaking – and you could certainly add 2013's critical and box office phenomenon Gravity to that list. It may even be the best of them all.

And now here comes All is Lost, easily the sparsest film of its kind. While others have relied on extended pre-disaster land-based prologues, expository flashbacks, or narrative voice-over, this low-budget indie – about one man stranded in a boat on an endless ocean – is virtually wordless.

It could actually serve on an intriguing double-bill with Gravity. Both movies throw individuals into the perils of our two grandest – and most devastating – expanses of exploration: outer space and the open sea. And in both, we never cut away from the immediacy of their life-threatening peril. We're always in it. There is no escape. Even when calmer moments let us breathe, the threat of death always circles like a patient vulture.

But what makes All is Lost unique is that, unlike Gravity and these other films, it intentionally avoids defining this Man in any way beyond how we see him in the midst of this life-threatening odyssey. We don't even know his name. A brief introductory voice-over of a letter written by the Man lets us know there are loved ones that he'd leave behind, but that's it – and even there, the apology he expresses could suggest he's not necessarily a guy who would earn our sympathies if we knew him better.

So for all intents and purposes, this Man – who is the only character in the entire movie – is a blank slate to us. Emphasis on "to us" because we bring no judgment to him, we have nothing to go on. But to himself this is a man who's lived a long life, who has his own story, and who must organically embody that on some fundamental human level. Consequently, the actor cast as this Man becomes crucial, even vital. And that's where Redford comes in.

Redford, by his persona, brings our collective good will toward him to the role. He provides an immediate "in" to a film that singularly observes rather than examines. With that as a foundation, Redford can then lose himself in the vacuum of this solitude, not compelled to add any dramatic commentary or strain for our sympathies but simply "be" in a very immediate fashion, as circumstances dictate.