This is not a terribly enjoyable film to watch — it’s harrowing and unsettling. It’s also extremely odd — a film with almost no dialogue. It’s about a sailor on a small boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean whose vessel receives a near-fatal injury, forcing the sailor to improvise a series of responses to the catastrophe in order to survive.
Things go from bad to worse — the sea does what it will with a sailor in distress. But the sailor keeps improvising, in the face of the worst the sea has to offer.
Robert Redford plays the sailor. Those who think that movie stars live or die by the dialogue they’re given need to look at Redford’s performance in this film. He has no dialogue — just a little voice-over speech at the beginning. And yet he’s consistently fascinating to watch.
Probably only an established star could have pulled off a performance like this — someone so confident in his or her screen persona that he or she is sure the audience will pay attention to the smallest details of eye movement, of facial expression. If Redford had overacted this part even a little it would have been a disaster.
So — no dialogue, grueling action on a tiny circumscribed platform, subtle acting . . . and yet the film is riveting. It’s a nautical procedural in which each procedure is invested with suspense, a kind of dogged, stoic heroism, and what Yeats called “the fascination of what’s difficult.”