Directed by Baltasar Kormákur.
Starring Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin, Grace Palmer, Jeffrey Thomas and Elizabeth Hawthorne.
A young couple find themselves forced to battle for survival when the pleasure yacht they are sailing to California is caught in the midst of a horrific storm, leaving them drifting in the Pacific Ocean.
There’s a whole sub-genre of movies built around the idea of people alone – or nearly alone – in boats, stranded in the middle of the ocean. This year, Colin Firth (alone) drifted into insanity in The Mercy and recent years have given us Robert Redford (alone) in All is Lost and Suraj Sharma (alone, with a tiger) in Life of Pi. The latest addition to the stranded at sea canon is Adrift, in which it is Shailene Woodley condemned to battle the elements, with only a seriously injured Sam Claflin for company.
The film pitches the audience into the midst of the action, first introducing Woodley’s free-spirited traveller Tami as she frantically searches the remains of her vessel in the immediate aftermath of the catastrophic events. She eventually spots her boyfriend Richard (Claflin), floating on a life dinghy a short distance away and manages to bring him aboard, with life-threatening injuries to his leg and ribs.
This is a movie that starts in deep water and then loops back around to tell the story that led the characters there. The script, adapting a written account of the true story, attempts to subvert the sub-genre through the medium of a double narrative. On the one hand, there’s Tami and Richard’s dogged attempts to survive the aftermath of Hurricane Raymond and, on the other, we follow the initial meet cute between the young couple and the events that led to them sailing a pleasure yacht 4,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean from Tahiti to San Diego.
It’s easy to understand, on paper, why this bizarre structural decision was made. Director Baltasar Kormákur, who created real tension from true events in Everest, is clearly keen to get straight into the meat of the action, rather than devote the entire first act to a sub-YA account of two attractive people forming a relationship. However, these scenes are actually the best in the entire movie, with Woodley and Claflin making for a charming couple, with whom it’s genuinely nice to spend time.
The constant cross-cutting between grave peril and idyllic romance robs the audience of the chance to either revel in the joy or invest in the tension. It sits in an awkward middle ground where there are two stories playing out almost simultaneously – each independently intriguing, but seemingly completely separate from each other.
This is particularly true when it comes to the depiction of the hurricane itself. It’s an elaborately staged and very well made set piece, but the story keeps cutting backwards and forwards in time, disturbing the flow of the action and subsequently doing a disservice to the other half of the narrative as well. Adrift is a movie that consistently seems intent to sabotage itself.
Fortunately, the two performers at the heart of this story are two of the best young actors in the movie world today. Shailene Woodley delivers her best performance since The Fault in Our Stars as the plucky woman who is forced to take over and take risks in order to save both herself and her partner. Claflin, meanwhile, uses the same easy charm that has made him such a compelling romantic lead in recent years. Their chemistry is very engaging and I’d love to see them work together with some lighter material in the future.
Adrift is never an outright bad film to watch and there’s a certain sense of enjoyable mediocrity to much of what it is doing. Kormákur knows his way around a survival tale and the performers are at the top of their game. However, it never flies emotionally in the way that it needs to and ultimately doesn’t leave much of an impression, ebbing away as quickly as a wave lapping against a cliff face.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Tom Beasley is a freelance film journalist and wrestling fan. Follow him on Twitter via @TomJBeasley for movie opinions, wrestling stuff and puns.