Given that lot of acting usually lies in reacting to other actors, it isn't exactly easy to have an engaging one-actor film. Often, it takes a rather strong performer to to carry a movie on his or her shoulders without any support. The courage to take up a challenge such as this is commendable and the will to take it to the very end single-handedly is what sets a great actor apart from a good one.
Even though there are not too many films that manage to thrive on one actor carrying the entire film alone, here are some that did:
All Is Lost (2013)
J.C. Chandor's survival drama, All Is Lost, follows an unnamed man (Robert Redford) who knows his imminent fate. One day, he wakes up to find his boat flooded with water post a collision with a wayward shipping container. The man does patch up the hole to get rid of the water. However, the damage has already been done. The saltwater intrusion has damaged all navigation and communication systems of the boat.
All Is Lost could have easily been a snoozefest, but it did turn out to be a riveting piece of work. As an audience, we are stuck with Redford in a vast ocean. The setting is claustrophobic and there is no escape. In an ongoing storm, the character still has dynamism, cool determination, a strong will to survive and the acceptance to let go.
In Rodrigo Cortes' nightmarish thriller, Buried, Ryan Reynolds plays a lorry driver who is kidnapped and buried alive in Iraq. Stuck in a coffin, with only a cellphone and a lighter, he races against time to get out of the situation. The cellphone does in fact allow him to talk to other people besides his captors. Most of them are out, busy or pass him along to another person who he has to re-explain his entire situation to again and again, wasting his breath. Since there are no shots of people answering the phone, the only person the audience really knows is Paul Conroy (Ryan Reynolds).
With a run time of just 95 minutes, the film does manage to be rather nerve-wracking. It suceeds in producing an intense thriller by converting the setting into an asset. One minute the character screams for help while is face is lit by fire, the next minute he is trying to collect his thoughts. There is limited space but Reynolds makes his character convincing enough to hold up the movie.
Secret Honour (1984)
Secret Honour is based on a fictionalized play written by Donald Freed and Arnold M. Stone. Directed by Robert Altman, the film is about a a drunk, ranting, potentially suicidal Richard Nixon (Phillip Baker Hall). His personality is presented through a monologue. We see this exasperated man pointing out his own failures and dubious qualities. He also makes shocking speculative revelations. However, what he says may or may not be true. It is Altman who interweaves these theories with official facts and truths from Nixon’s biography.
Actor Philip Baker Hall raves of all the injustice he had to suffer, while adopting Nixon’s body language, not to mimic but to step in his shoes. He simply took on the role of a man who has done so much and cannot handle anymore.
The Man Who Sleeps (1974)
This critically-acclaimed French drama directed by Bernard Queysanne and Georges Perec is based on Perec’s own 1967 novel “A Man Asleep”. It follows a student (Jacques Speisser) whose indifferences towards the world, results in alienation and questions about his existence. He decides to abandon the world he has come to know, and wanders the streets of Paris instead, all whilst a random woman (Ludmila Mikael) narrates his inner most thoughts.
This silent movie has been shot in monochrome. It experiments with classic French cinema and Russian Existentialism to create a poetic depiction of loneliness. The focus lies solely on the protagonist’s daily rituals as the audience follows him in real time to wherever he may wander off to.
The Human Voice (1966)
Ted Kotcheff's film, The Human Voice, is set in Paris. It follows a woman (Ingrid Bergman) talking on the phone with her longterm lover who is about to marry another girl the next day. It is the monologue that triggers her crippling depression.
Ingrid Bergman was perhaps one of the greatest actors of her time. She had the ability to captivate audiences. It is this quality that she used flawlessly in the film. Her display of emotional range in every sentence was simply stunning.