Adrift is the story of young love, a charismatic, attractive couple who decide to sail across the world together, encounter a storm, and then have to survive until they can find land. Simple. It’s a fairly basic premise, we’ve seen it done many times before, but I’ll add to this – Adrift is based off the very real story of what happened to Tami Oldham and Richard Sharp, although I implore you not to read up on that story until you’ve watched the movie. Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur is in the director’s seat for this, who’s done many a natural disaster film including 2015’s Everest with Jake Gyllenhaal and a slew of other stars. He’s also directed some less than stellar features including the Mark Wahlberg driven Contraband, although I’m happy to report Adrift feels very much at home with Kormákur at the helm, and I’d go so far as to say is elevated by not only his direction, the pacing, the acting, but the very realistic and grounded approach the film takes.
Too often in disaster movies, or in movies where your protagonist is stuck somewhere remote, injured, and has to find their way home, they end up MacGyvering their way out of some fantastical situation, with no prior knowledge or survival skills, and a past life as something like an English teacher – thankfully, this is not the case with Adrift. Everything that happens is believable, I was convinced that Shailene Woodley (Divergent, Big Little Lies) could do this, and I wasn’t just watching a Hollywood blockbuster. I was also convinced of her relationship with Sam Claflin (Me Before You, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire), who, so far, has been a rather attractive supporting role in several female-driven films, and hasn’t been given a whole lot to do, but I’m going to say I think has a lot more to offer than we’ve seen from him so far. Both Woodley and Claflin are great in this, particularly Woodley, who has to pull off the bulk of the hard work here thanks to an injury Claflin’s character succumbs to early on in the film.
Adrift is told through flashback, back and forth between when our two protagonists meet, and the story of their struggle to survive after their ship has been wrecked by a category-four hurricane. Flash backs have been all the rage with many a popular TV show the last few years, but the can get tedious in a feature film, unless you’re equally invested in both aspects of the story. Thankfully, the pacing of Adrift is really tight, it moves along at swiftly enough so that you’re not bored, but takes nice moments for you to breathe with the young, happy couple as well.
This is the sort of film that takes several twists and turns, and I’d be cautious about how much you read going into it. What I would say though, is that whilst this is a story of battling against the elements, I feel that Adrift succeeds much more as a love story, than a natural disaster flick. I would make comparisons to one of my lesser-liked films of last year, The Mountain Between Us, again a tale of two individuals, a man and a woman, stranded in a harsh landscape attempting to survive, but (and this might spoil The Mountain Between Us, but it really wasn’t that good anyways) surprise! Kate Winslet and Idris Elba aren’t just there to keep each other alive, they have to have the sexy time on the mountain side, despite her broken leg! Adrift gives you that sexual chemistry and tension off the bat, establishes the couple, and then sweeps you along on their journey. It’s not a plot point, it simply is. Although, it might be a tad conflated to argue a true story against a completely fictionalised narrative, but I still found this much, much more compelling.
The only real drawback I can say, is that where Adrift had the opportunity to really highlight the vast expanse of ocean, it didn’t really take full advantage of that. It never felt cheap or less-than, but certainly didn’t strike me in the same way Everest did, which is interesting because cinematographer Robert Richardson has blown me away before with his work on The Hateful Eight, Snow Falling on Cedars, The Aviator and Platoon, just to name a few. Perhaps the ocean presents a different beast.
Overall, Adrift is competent, interesting enough for me to recommend, but not necessarily something I’m going to say go rush out and see. Adrift is showing in cinemas now. Or, you know, it’ll be on either Netflix or Stan in about six month’s time. Whatever floats your boat (sorry, not sorry).
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