ADRIFT

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Baltasar Kormakur

Stars: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin.

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There have been many great survival stories told on the screen, many of them set at sea like the recent Colin Firth drama The Mercy. Arguably amongst the best of these are films like Cast Away, with Tom Hanks stranded on a remote island, and J C Chandor’s superb All Is Lost, basically another one-hander with Robert Redford playing a sailor stranded at sea after his yacht was struck by a floating shipping container. Despite the fact that it was confined to one simple location, All Is Lost was full of tension and drama, and Redford’s gritty and charismatic performance held our attention. Unfortunately, Adrift, the latest stranded at sea drama is nowhere near as dramatic or as compelling. This tale of two sailors left stranded at sea after encountering a massive storm is a little waterlogged itself, and is hampered by a bland romantic subplot that detracts from the inherent drama of the situation.

Adrift is based on the harrowing true story of Tami Oldham Ashcroft (played here by Shailene Woodley, from the Divergent series, etc), a peripatetic young American travelling the world in 1983 without any real purpose or destination in mind. She ends up in Tahiti. While temporarily working at a marina, she spots handsome British sailor Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin, from The Hunger Games trilogy, etc), and a romance quickly blossoms between the pair. They spend plenty of time together exploring the picturesque delights of Tahiti. Richard has a love of the open ocean and sailing.

But then Richard is offered an opportunity to sail a luxury yacht belonging to a wealthy couple back to San Diego. Tami is reluctant because San Diego is her home town and is full of mixed memories for her. But eventually she relents and accompanies Richard on the voyage.

The couple then sail into a cataclysmic hurricane that wrecks the boat. Richard is thrown overboard and badly injured. Tami has to nurse Richard while trying to effect makeshift repairs to the damaged boat and navigate across the vast Pacific Ocean to find safety. She has to tap into reserves of strength and resilience that she never knew she possessed during her 41-day ordeal adrift at sea.

Adrift is a story of courage, sacrifice, self-sufficiency, resilience and romance, and is based on her memoir Red Sky At Mourning: A True Tale Of Love, Loss And Survival At Sea, which she self-published a decade later. The book has been adapted to the screen by twin siblings Aaron and Jordan Kandell, who were among the many writers who penned the animated Moama. They have taken a few liberties with the true story for dramatic purposes here.

The director is Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur, who obviously loves these gruelling true stories of endurance and courage, as he previously gave us Everest in 2015. He also loves his extreme locations, as approximately 90% of Adrift was shot at sea, off the coast of Fiji. Most of the cast and crew fell violently sea sick at some point during the 49-day shoot.

The film benefits enormously from the gorgeous widescreen cinematography of Oscar winner Robert Richardson (JFK, Hugo, etc). But Richardson also works in closeup to give the film a more intimate feel and a claustrophobic touch at times. And there is a haunting and effective soundscape that features the scraping of the broken timber and the constant lapping of the water around the boat, which adds to the sense of uneasiness and danger.

There is palpable chemistry between Claflin and Woodley (who is also credited as one of the many producers on the project). A game and plucky Woodley carries much of the film on her shoulders; she delivers a strong, physical and emotional performance that taps into her inner strength and resolve. Claflin is laid back, charming and charismatic, but has less to do as the injured Richard.

But Adrift unfolds in non-linear fashion as it jumps back and forward between two different timelines, one depicting their predicament and the other exploring the more idyllic past in which the pair develop their strong relationship. The film opens with Tami waking up confused and dazed on the flooded boat following the huge storm, and then unfolds in a series of flashbacks that take us back to more peaceful and relaxing times in Tahiti as Tami and Richard explore the island and wander through marketplaces. But this cross-cutting structure is the film’s biggest failing – rather than a few flashbacks there are far too many of them and they are incorporated into the drama without any real sense of rhyme or reason – as it weakens the intensity of the drama at sea and upsets the rhythm of the piece. These scenes seem random and detract from the unfolding drama on the drifting boat. Less flashback sequences would have added to the drama. And the romance between the pair is a little tepid and dull as well and slows the pace so that Adrift feels far longer than its 96-minute running time.

There is also a late twist that has proved contentious and is open to interpretation.

And the CGI effects that create the huge storm, created on a sound stage in New Zealand, are somehow less than convincing. The special effects crew did a better job in creating the massive waves and stormfront on the 2000 George Clooney/ Mark Wahlberg drama The Perfect Storm, another superior film about survival at sea.

A footnote tells us though that Tami survived her ordeal and, undaunted by the experience, continues to sail to this day.

★★☆

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