"Oh Lord,” the old fisherman's prayer goes, “Thy sea is so great and my boat is so small.”
Anybody who has ever sailed a boat — any boat — over the wine dark sea has that line at the ready for those inevitable moments when hopeless peril is at hand.
The old sailor (Robert Redford) doesn't say it aloud, but you wonder if it crosses his mind as his boat, his gear, his body and his luck fail him. He doesn't say much of anything, just a certain well-played swear word that sums up everything that happens to him in “All Is Lost.” Considering that moment, no one will blame him.
“All is Lost” is “Gravity at Sea,” a brilliantly spare film about the hazardous inner journey that tests one old man's intestinal fortitude and his resourcefulness to the max as his small sailboat is disabled in the middle of the Indian Ocean.
“I tried to be true,” he says when we meet him. “I tried to be right. But I wasn't. I'm sorry.”
He's writing a farewell note to those he left on shore. We don't see them or meet them and we don't even know this old mariner's name. But Redford, in a compact, tour de force performance, tells us all we need to know just with his reasoning, his competence and those moments hi competence comes up short.
His small sailing sloop — a 35 footer, from the looks of her — collides with a loose shipping container full of sneakers and the hull is stove in. Our sailor has to gather his wits, free the boat from the container, patch the flooded hull and pump it out. He needs to rinse and dry out his electronics, which tell him where he is and with which he could tell the world he's in trouble. He needs to find land, or help, using skills — navigating by the stars — he never bothered to learn.