Casting Counts: Gravity, All is Lost, & Captain Phillips

I see a lot of movies because I love movies and it’s kind of my job. Casting is always key for me. I’m always looking to discover new talent in small roles on the big screen. It turns out that casting is key for many movie goers as well. Three recent releases have emerged as unintended companion pieces about isolation and insurmountable odds. In Gravity, Sandra Bullock plays a woman who must try to survive in space after a freak accident leaves her adrift. In All is Lost, Robert Redford, film legend,  plays a man who must try to survive at sea after a freak accident leaves him adrift. In Captain Phillips, Tom Hanks plays a man who must survive at sea after pirates take over his ship.



I’m sure it’s pure coincidence that these films came out around the same time, but I can’t help drawing comparisons and noting how key the casting is for these particular films. Robert Redford, film legend, is the only actor in All is Lost and thus, the film has limited dialogue, very limited as in all the words could fit on one page. Would audiences be willing to pay to see an unknown in this role? Probably not. More importantly, Redford’s stature as a Hollywood legend, and his age (77) make him particularly compelling and vulnerable in this very simple and unencumbered performance.

Heavy hitters Sandra Bullock and George Clooney separate Gravity from every other science fiction fan boy film out there. The presence of these two stars makes this film a must-see for 15 year-olds and 50 year-olds and the film’s popularity with the older crowd has been one of the keys to its success.



Unlike Gravity and All Is Lost, Captain Phillips features a slew of actors who play the pirates, the ship’s crew, and the military personnel who try to end the situation. These actors range from complete novices like the four young first-time actors playing the pirates to recognizable faces like Max Martini and in a brief appearance, Catherine Keener. However, this film is all about Tom Hanks in the title role.  A known entity at the center of this film is what got it greenlit in the first place, and it is what attracts (particularly older) audiences.

An argument could be made for all of these films that unknown actors would have been a stronger artistic choice. Even though there are strong performances all around,  I never forgot that I was watching Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Tom Hanks, and Robert Redford.  The stature and allure of these stars can’t be denied. There is a reason that Redford has been a star for nearly 50 years, and that star quality is on display in every moment of All Is Lost.


Ultimately, I’m intrigued by the way casting of stars and lesser known talent affects the audience’s expectations. I think expect more from stars, but are also willing to see a film just because of their presence. Are there any stars that you seek out at the movie theatre? Any actor whose shear presence in a film will guarantee that you’re there? For me, there are a handful: Michael Fassbender, Gael Garcia Bernal, and Viola Davis come to mind. Leave a comment with your go-to stars!

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