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Adrift – Movie Review

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Adrift – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy VVS Films

The “lost at sea” sub-genre is rather cinematic as filmmakers are given the opportunity to have their protagonists battle the elements. Inspired by a true story, Adrift is at its best when Shailene Woodley’s free spirit Tami is tested by nature as she sails through the Pacific Ocean. The film employs a curious narrative device by using a large number of flashbacks, leading up to the event that caused all of the trouble to begin with. It’s a curious decision that doesn’t entirely work, but it does keep one’s attention for the majority of the time. The audience does have to wade through a corny central romance, though.

While Woodley and Sam Claflin are essentially co-leads in this voyage, a lot of Adrift rests on the former’s shoulders. Director Baltasar Kormakur submerges her in this boat that is struggling to survive as water thrashes through it. Woodley does her usual superb work and creates a large amount of sympathy for her predicament. A good amount of her screentime is alone as she attempts to locate her significant other in the ocean. The stunt work deserves to be commended, too, and it’s clear Woodley is committing to the role’s physical demands. She is an actress who has proven to deliver stellar work, even with underwhelming material.

Less successful is the main romance. The screenplay saddles Woodley and Claflin with fairly saccharine dialogue and this puts a strain on their chemistry. The film wants us to happily accept these two as lovebirds, but it doesn’t feel genuine. This has a particular impact on the more emotional scenes, as the intended reaction doesn’t register. Adrift might have been better served telling the story chronologically. It’s an admirable attempt on the filmmakers’ part to play around with the story structure, but the movie wants us to immediately buy into their romance straight off the bat. The scenes of Woodley and Claflin on the boat are far more interesting than when the film cuts back to them on land.

What Kormakur does really well is show how dangerous the ocean can be. The perfect storm that ruins their trip is sound mixed in such a way that in some theatres, the seats will rumble. The blunt force of the hurricane turns this one sequence into a perilous roller coaster ride. Director of photography Robert Richardson’s underwater shots are quite spectacular, taking full advantage of the blues of the ocean. Some more character development would have been nice, along with the technical wonder of those sequences, as Tami and Richard don’t grow tremendously during the course of this hellish voyage on the Pacific.

Adrift is ultimately a passable film, slightly elevated by the director’s determination and Shailene Woodley fully digging into this role. It makes sense why the filmmakers opted for a non-linear approach and it does get the audience to the watery wreck faster. However, the film also utilises some twists and turns that weren’t entirely needed in this story. Most disappointingly, the romance falls short of being properly emotional and that’s a shame. Thankfully, Adrift doesn’t overstay its welcome and one can definitely see the cinematic potential of Tami Oldham’s story. That she managed to survive that long at sea is quite remarkable.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison