SOMEBODY SAVE THAT MAN!!
Okay, okay, let’s get serious, because this film is nothing to laugh at. Robert Redford commands the screen only like Robert Redford can. There are very few actors who could have pulled off this role. It’s a one man show, and Redford is the only man in town.
His character is named in the credits simply as “Our Man.” How appropriate. We feel like we are part of him, as he goes through this tremendous ordeal at sea. Director J.C. Chandor elevates our feelings for him by portraying him in such a positive and upbeat light early on in the film. There are numerous shots of Redford with the camera looking up at him, giving him this sense of power, heroism, and majesty. One man, our man, out at sea.
Our Man is put through the ringer at sea, as he battles the elements. There is a comfort Redford brings to the screen and you always feel as though he is going to make it. Our Man is cool, calm, and collective, and, for the most part, so are we. We mostly get the sense he will prevail through his withdrawal from the situation. He is not one to overreact to any particular situation, instead he moves on to the next problem.
However, as things go from bad to worse for him, we see the anxious worry on his face begin to surface. He is hit by two storms, thrown into the water, and sees his boat, the Virginia Jean, fill with water and sink into the ocean, as he looks upon it stoically from his life raft. But we still think he will persevere, because, well, it’s Robert Redford. Even though he may be weakening mentally and physically, he is still able to move forward with much resolve.
It isn’t until he screams, “Fuck.” A long, angry, saddening shout, that you begin to get the sense that things may not work out for him. It is his first instance in which he exudes any sort of emotion, so the impact of the dire situation he is in becomes more real and immediate. For the first time in the film, we begin to worry. A sense of dread begins to creep into the mix. Our Man may not have a storybook ending.
Redford’s performance is one to commend. For a film that only has one actor, it is surprisingly diverse in its style. Give credit to the director for that, as he presents the story artistically and creatively. The shots of the life raft from beneath it are especially moving. And although there is hardly any dialogue, the film never drags and each scene is presented freshly for all eyes to behold.
In the end, Our Man finally gives up and is sinking to the bottom of the ocean, like his fallen ship. It is an emotional and heartbreaking moment. For all the strength and determination he displayed, enough was finally enough and he could not press on. That is, until he saw a small boat heading over towards his flaming life raft. This scene is presented in such a way that we cannot say for sure whether it was real or whether it was a dying man’s last image before he passed.
That last image of Our Man reaching up to grab the hand is left totally up to the interpretation of the viewer, almost as sort of a Rorschach test. Do you want to believe he had to strength to make it back to the surface and live, or was it a fading dream of a dying man? Whatever it was or may be, it was an memorable lasting image and made for a controversial ending.