2018, PG-13, 96 mins.
Shailene Woodley as Tami Oldham / Sam Claflin as Richard Sharp / Luna Campbell as Tahitian Paddler / Jeffrey Thomas as Peter / Elizabeth Hawthorne as Christine / Grace Palmer as Deb
Directed by Baltasar Kormákur / Written by Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell, and David Branson Smith
ADRIFT is a new fact based outdoor survival thriller that's cross morphed with a romance drama, which immediately doesn't sound particularly enticing on paper.
Yet, it tells the
harrowing true story of Tami Oldman, whom in September of 1983 sailed into
a rather powerful hurricane in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and came
out of it alive with a severely damaged boat, very little water and
rations and no radio support. With
1500 miles separating her from Hawaii, Tami jerry-rigged a sail and then
proceeded to manually navigate herself back to land.
It took her over a month, during which time she survived on peanut
butter and sheer will power. Her
tale is definitely worth exploring on the silver screen, and one thing
that makes ADRIFT more uniquely gripping is that this is a man versus
nature tale of survival told ostensibly from the female perspective, which
makes the resulting film have more refreshing urgency in a very crowded
watching ADRIFT I was reminded a lot of 2013's brilliant Robert Redford
one-man show ALL IS LOST, and on many
cursory and visceral levels the comparisons are worthy and apt. However, what separates ALL IS LOST in its favor was that
Redford was the only person in the virtually dialogue-free movie.
There was a startling sense of the vast expanse of the ocean and how
being alone and without any aid in the slightest coming your way is a
nightmarishly frightening prospect. This is not to belittle Tami Oldman's ordeal in the
slightest, but ADRIFT doesn't place as much faith in its survival
narrative to simply just focus on her tortuous month-plus on the ocean.
Instead, it flashes back and forth throughout - sometimes fluidly,
but most of the time awkwardly and without reason - to highlight her courtship with a
man she was poised to marry that was lost during the sail through the
hurricane in question. There are
two dramatic hemispheres at play here - the love story and the survival
story - and only one of them is particularly gripping.
There are many
instances in ADRIFT where its Young Adult toned scenes between its two
lovers - showcasing who they are, where they came from, and how they came
to be together - almost seems superfluous to the larger and more important
story of Tami's brush with death at sea.
The film might have worked better if it just placed more trust in
the audience and simply thrust them into her plight without ever looking
back. To be fair, ADRIFT gets
this half right with an opening scene that does indeed hurtle us right
into the dire circumstances of Tami's predicament as we see her physically
and mentally rattled in the aftermath of the devastating hurricane, during
which time intense panic settles in with the realization that she may in
fact be all alone in the middle of the ocean with a damaged boat and thousands of mile away from civilization.
On a positive, ADRIFT's introductory moment packs a strong
But then ADRIFT
goes back in time earlier in 1983 as we see Tami (played in a headstrong
and potently authentic performance by Shailene Woodley) wandering through
Tahiti in search of a new life away from the one she escaped from in San
Diego. She takes some menial
jobs working on maintaining and cleaning boats, and it's at this time when
she has a meet-cute with Richard (Sam Claflin), a hunky and experienced
sailor that seems to live a dream lifestyle of travelling the seas on his
own boat. Needless to say,
this immediately attracts Tami to him, and within no time the pair are
intimately hitting it off and become inseparable.
When Richard is given the job of a lifetime to sail a client's
luxury yacht back home stateside for a small fortune, both he and Tami
mutually agree to seize the opportunity to be afforded the financial freedom
to fund their own expeditions for the indefinite future.
both, Richard and Tami find themselves caught in the aforementioned
hurricane, and, as history would show (SPOILER ALERT!), only one of them would come out of it alive.
This takes me to
a very tricky sticking point that I had with ADRIFT that deals with Tami's
mental state while trying to survive, which is suggested to be fraught
with a potential for hallucinations on top of mental fatigue and crippling
hunger and thirst. This
builds to a potentially shocking plot twist near the final stretch of the
film that's not especially twisty, nor shocking if one considers the
cursory elements of Tami's real life story on that boat.
If anything, it comes off as pretty dramatically manipulative.
Creatively, I think I understand the choices here, mostly because
if you're going to have a romance drama that also just happens to be a
reality based survival story then you want your lead actors front and center,
but ADRIFT seems to lack conviction in terms of allowing its story to
ostensibly be a one woman show for Woodley, which is something that I
think holds it back from achieving true greatness.
The yo-yo nature
of the scripting here doesn't do the film any favors either, seeing as we
essentially have two seemingly separate stories vying for attention here,
which leads to the whole enterprise feeling narratively choppy throughout.
Just when things feel like they're building to suspenseful crescendos
we're granted flashback upon flashback that shows the happier times on
land that Tami and Richard had before their life altering hardships at
sea. It's not that these scenes aren't fine on their own, and
Woodley and Claflin do have a decent amount of unforced chemistry
throughout. But when all is
said and done, ADRIFT is a far more enthralling watch when it hones in on
Tami using her amateur nautical skills, a lot of intestinal fortitude, and
quick witted decision making - not to mention some serious luck - to see
that she makes it out of this hellish mess in one piece.
On those levels, the scenes involving her 41 highly pressurized
days at sea are endlessly captivating and make ADRIFT worth the price of
admission. Everything else
around that seems to be one perfunctory melodrama.
There are two other things that make ADRIFT worthy of your viewing investment. Firstly, the direction by Baltasar Kormakur (no stranger to outdoor survival flicks, having previously made the very decent EVEREST) is technical proficient and frequently breathtaking, utilizing what I'm guessing are some cutting edge visual effects to make you actually believe that Woodley is in the middle of the ocean facing off against a massive hurricane. He captures the intimidating expansiveness of the ocean while portraying Mother Nature at her most extraordinarily dangerous. Secondly, there's Woodley herself (also serving as producer here), and there's rarely a false beat from her all throughout the film. She's unendingly credible as a very desperate woman placed in a very desperate powder keg of a situation where one false step could lead to death. Even when ADRIFT loses some storytelling momentum and oftentimes focus for what matters most in this tale of an iron willed woman's quest to stay alive we have the ever so capable Woodley steering the dramatic ship on the right course.
ADRIFT sometimes comes across as Nicholas Sparks at sea, but its underlining tale of self preservation, the consummate directorial prowess on display, and the indomitable spirit of its lead actor helps elevate it above such a simplistic moniker.