Review: Adrift

Shailene Woodley proves her leading lady chops with the true-life sea faring disaster project Adrift. Director Baltasar Kormákur (Everest) navigates the more saccharine elements well and shows what a deft hand he is with people in peril. Almost brought crashing down by an on-the-nose post script, Adrift stays afloat to surface as an engaging two-hander.

People at the mercy of the elements is no strange place for prolific producer/director Baltasar Kormákur, he’s sailed treacherous worlds before in Everest and The Deep. His understanding of pacing and framing action serves Adrift well in it’s narrative set in flash back style. A flashy and hugely intense opening scene of a sinking vessel and bloodied heroine signals off the bat you are in strong hands.

It’s 1983 and we’re in Tahiti where 24 year old where-wind-blows-you San Diegan Tami Oldham (Woodley) lands a job as a dock hand at the local port. When 33 year old sailor Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin) sails into town, it’s not long before the pair strike up a romance and find themselves offered the chance of a lifetime to sail a luxury schooner across the seas to California. It’s upon this journey that they fall into the grips of a savage hurricane that cripples the boat and blows them way off course. After being rendered unconscious from the storm, Tami wakes to find herself alone on a sinking vessel, Richard nowhere to be found, and without the adequate skills to survive in a seemingly endless ocean.

Adrift lives and dies by the casting of its lead and, thankfully, the presence of the hugely endearing Shailene Woodley is the film’s masterstroke. Look, Woodley produced this as well so the film is a vanity project (let’s just get that out of the way) but she is so invested what’s going on you can’t help but go with her. She really gives Tami her all, even in the most extremes of isolation, Woodley’s exhaustion is palpable.

Claflin is mere window dressing (and a handsome window dressing nonetheless) to Woodley’s central turn yet he, too, is a solid support.

A refreshing touch here is the film’s straight-to-it construction. At a thrift 96 minutes, Adrift doesn’t waste any time getting to the central story (hell, you open in its aftermath) and when you finally reach the vicious storm, Kormákur lets it off the chain. The sequence itself is truly thrilling and terrifying.

If there’s any quibbles (and I really only have one), it is the choice to include a totally shoehorned saccharine drenched midday movie level post script on the film. It feels so forced and arbitrary, equipped with a cloying song, and over extended sentimentality. For me, dear reader, it pulled me out of the film emotionally.

Adrift is a competent and engaging true life drama bolstered by a solid central turn from Woodley and deft direction from Kormákur. If anything, it’s a sobering reminder that humans don’t belong on the sea, leave it to the marine life to look after it!