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Call her Tami. Some years ago (never mind when in the 1980s precisely) having little or no money in her purse, and nothing particular to interest her in San Diego, she thought she would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. And does she have a story for you!
Tami is played by Shailene Woodley, one of the producers of Baltasar Kormákur’s effective lost-at-sea survival drama Adrift. Woodley is in almost every shot of this based-on-a-true-story film. She’s a free spirit falling in love with fellow far-from-home drifter Richard (Sam Claflin) on the way up, and holding on for dear life before nature’s violent indifference on the way down. Adrift’s screenplay moves back and forth in waves, so we open in medias mess; the fancy yacht she and Richard were hired to sail from Tahiti to California has been almost completely destroyed and is meandering somewhere in the Pacific. We learn how our two nautical heroes ended up in such a predicament just in time for the well-plotted twin climax.
The interlaced plotting is quite clever, and those story smarts are mirrored in Kormákur’s shooting style. When most of your movie is set on a very small boat you’ve got to get creative, and his camera is constantly plunging overboard or framing Woodley and Claflin in peculiar ways. The storm sequence is terrifying to the point that my head soon throbbed, and I almost became nauseous. I hope the effects team will take this as a compliment.
But it wasn’t just due to the effects. The high seas terror had such impact because, by this point, we’ve grown to really care for Tami and Richard. Their French Polynesian courtship isn’t revolutionary film-making, but it is sweet and sincere. Kormákur lets the far-flung setting and a particularly romantic Tom Waits cover do a lot of heavy lifting, and one can’t ignore that Woodley and Claflin, who are rarely seen in anything other than swimwear, are quite appealing frolicking in the surf or smooching in the fo’c’sle.
Then there are the moments of great peril, in which horrifying gashes are revealed, and the audience all inhales through their teeth as one. (This phenomenon, for which I don’t think there is a proper name, happened at least three times during the New York mixed press and public screening.) Adrift works best when we’re watching smart people confront their next obstacle before time runs out, be it a tripped-up rudder or decreasing water supply. A bad injury keeps Richard on his back, so Tami is the one left to do all the hard work as they hope to steer their nearly collapsed vessel to Hawaii.
Adrift doesn’t have quite the existential gut-punch of JC Chandor’s similar All Is Lost or the recent Cannes debut Arctic , but what it lacks in the department of pure howling cinema, it makes up for with the emotion of its central relationship. Woodley, whom I’ve never considered a great thespian, pushes herself to the limit, and runs the gamut from traumatised to triumphant. It is leagues ahead of anything she’s done before. The row of sobbing teen girls behind me suggests this might even be a hit. I, for one, am now more committed than ever to travelling by rail.
- Adrift is out in the US on 1 June and in the UK on 29 June
Source: The Guardian
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