Adrift. Released: June 1, 2018. Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur. Starring: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin, the Ocean. Runtime: 1h 36 min.
“Adrift” is a lost-at-sea survival drama based on a true story, a welcome change of pace of summer survival movies after survival against sharks the past two summers (“The Shallows” and “47 Meters Down” respectively).
Characters still fight for survival, but a shark isn’t an obstacle. Instead, Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley, also producing) and Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin) deal with the aftermath of being caught in a Category 4 hurricane.
We’re put into the story right when Tami wakes up after the hurricane. The screenplay takes us between survival drama and romance as we’re told their story through flashbacks. The jumps back in time sometimes span multiple scenes, and as the film advances there are shorter scenes as the timeline catches up to the present, where Tami and Richard are “adrift” in the Pacific Ocean.
The transitions are creative. There’s a scene where Tami sails Richard’s sailboat, the Mayaluga, for the first time and she shouts in excitement. It’s a moment of euphoria that switches to distress as it slams forward in time as Tami shouts for Richard, unable to find him. The story structure helps for pacing. Though, it takes a while for the hurricane scene to actually happen –it’s great when it comes, especially because of the immersive sound design.
The constant switch between the two genres helps it feel diverse, as too many consecutive scenes of the survival portion and it starts to feel flat. The scenes of romance between the two adventurous characters is also nice because Woodley and Claflin have a nice chemistry. There a lot of sweet flashback scenes, and there are also pretty moments on the boat before all hell breaks loose.
We don’t get to know a lot about Tami before she sets sail other than she and Richard like sailing, she’s traveling the world and is a free spirit who doesn’t want to go home. Shailene Woodley’s consistently good and that’s no different here. She plays romantic very well and makes those scenes feel sincere. After the hurricane hits, we learn the character’s resourceful and it’s great watching Woodley get into the psyche of survival. She plays the moments of strength, as well as heartbreaking moments of vulnerability, really well.
Sam Claflin is good, too, but he has so much more to do during the romantic part of the film and doesn’t do much during the survival because of his injuries. His performance will frequently be an afterthought to Woodley.
There are a few surprises in the story, which is nice, and while it sometimes feels derivative of other survival movies, it’s very much fueled by the strong connection between the characters. It’s a faithfully adapted screenplay written by twin screenwriters Aaron and Jordan Kendall (part of the writing team on Pixar’s “Moana”), who wrote it with Woodley in mind to star. Writer David Branson Smith (“Ingrid Goes West”) also joined as a writer later.
The film’s directed by Baltasar Kormákur, returning to the survival genre after 2015’s “Everest,” and it’s a good return to the genre. He gets great performances from his primary cast, and there aren’t many other principal cast members to direct. The only ones important to the story include an older couple, Peter (Jeffrey Thomas) and Christine (Elizabeth Hawthorne). They give Tami and Richard $10,000 to sail their yacht back to California, and are the reason why the couple cross paths with the hurricane.
Partly due to the lack of supporting cast, Kormákur easily makes the Ocean feel like the film’s third star. This is also assisted by the amazing cinematography by Oscar winner Robert Richardson (“Hugo,” “The Aviator”, “JFK”) who captures the scope of the direness of the characters’ situation. He makes every scene look beautiful, and that more than makes up for where the film lacks in non-stop tension.