The story of Adrift focuses on Tami Oldham, the young woman who while sailing from Tahiti to San Diego with her partner, Richard, gets caught up in Hurricane Raymond. The boat is nearly wrecked and she must try to sail to Hawaii over 41 days with Richard badly injured, dwindling food and water supplies and leagues of endless ocean.
Adrift on paper has a great deal going for it a straightforward survival narrative, a small cast of two and director, Baltasar Kormakur, whose most well-known work previously was Everest another story of survival. Admittedly it runs into the issue of people knowing how it turns out, especially when it proudly proclaims that it is an adaptation of a book written by Tami Oldham.
For the most part in the execution Adrift it is an engrossing experience. Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin, stars in YA adaptations Divergent and The Hunger Games respectively, have a believable and sweet relationship that you will to survive the voyage. Woodley herself puts most of the wind in the sails, putting in the majority of the work to pull audiences into a story that they may have already heard of.
Kormakur provides a great looking film for our actors to fight to survive in as the cinematography emphasises the vast expanse of watery blue nothingness and the sound design that both encapsulates the silence and deafens presenting both sides of the sea.
The narrative sails smoothly as well, interweaving the survival story with the burgeoning romance allows for an interesting climax that we have been anticipating from the beginning, and we slowly piece together the full story. The film uses little parts of the couple’s past to tie the two things together, whether it is a flower, a dress, a jumper or a song, that makes this feel like a real relationship.
However, despite the fantastic performances, the engaging romance and the day to day tasks of survival, you drift through Adrift’s narrative, unable to form any real attachment to characters or story, mainly due to the polished, artificial movie aesthetics of it. The romance is probably the best part of the film, but it feels too perfect, too clean, and it is the same with the survival story; there is no feeling of threat. Yes, you are engaged, but in terms of watching a documentary about the events, rather than emotionally captivated.
This is where the review hits spoiler territory, so while I will try to avoid the details of the main twist at the end, there are concerns that I have with it that may lead some to figure the twist out from context. The thing with twists in movies is that they need to be worked into the narrative to give hints toward what the truth really is. In Sixth Sense, when you watch it back you see hints that you missed that lead you to the conclusion that Bruce Willis is dead. It is the same with Shutter Island or Usual Suspects, what Adrift does is pull a twist at the emotional climax of the film that is not hinted at until the very end. Mark Kermode has said that this is very similar to the reveal in Tully, the Charlize Theron film, and will this may be the case as it is a gamble that may leave audience members cold. But I would argue that Tully has a better feel to it and has a greater connection with the audience, so when its reveal happens you are more willing to let it slide. Tully was a great character piece about motherhood, while Adrift just floats on its premise, lead and its status as a true story.
Adrift, despite the best efforts of Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin sinks quickly into mediocrity, it passes the time well enough but offers nothing to make that worthwhile.
You can watch Adrift in cinemas now