Jeff Labrecque
December 20, 2013 AT 05:00 AM EST

The beleaguered sailor in All Is Lost doesn’t have a name. The script refers to him simply as Our Man, which is everything you need to know about why writer-director J.C. Chandor needed Robert Redford to play him. With only a few lines of dialogue, the one-man show called for someone not simply famous but historically significant. Redford’s character is completely alone after his sailboat begins to founder in the Indian Ocean, and our bond with Our Man is reinforced by the legend’s iconic roles in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Way We Were, and The Natural. “I needed an actor who had a very deep relationship with an audience to be able to pull that off,” says Chandor, “so that by the time you get there in the third act you are sort of projecting your own fears, your own desires, your own concerns about the world, and it really becomes an emotional experience.” Our Man fights and fights and fights — until he cannot. When that famous face ticks from grim determination to weary surrender and Our Man finally unleashes the most exasperated, most justified F-bomb in movie history, you half expect Mother Nature and Murphy’s Law to retreat. It’s a truly courageous performance for anyone, much less a 77-year-old actor whose last — and only! — Oscar nomination for acting was 40 years ago. Whether Redford gets another one now, no one who sees All Is Lost will ever mistake him for just a pretty face.

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