We don’t know about you but we wouldn’t last five minutes out at sea if presented with the situation facing the intrepid lovers in Adrift. Imagine nothing in front of you but sea and sky, meeting seamlessly around you cocooning you in its lush blues and whites with nothing to distinguish each from the other. Such a scenario would send even the strongest-willed person a little loopy and this miraculous true-story is made even more remarkable when you start to ponder just how you would have survived such a perilous set of circumstances.
Said couple is played here by Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin, two of the most capable and rewarding actors working today and while they still have much to offer in their fledgling careers, both have begun to seek more impassioned projects. Woodley is Tami, a young American woman off seeking her purpose in life on the other side of the world and taking any job she can lay her hands on whilst continuing her inner quest for peace and purpose. Along the way she meets and falls for Richard (Claflin), a sailor who is soon offered a lucrative job of sailing a friend’s boat back home. Seizing the opportunity, the two set off on their course but are soon faced with a “perfect storm” and must use all of their know-how to survive such frightening conditions.
Director Balthaaar Kormakur is no stranger to large-scale drama epics having directed 2015’s Everest (with mixed results) but he seems to have learned from that experience that the drama of the situation comes from its believability and smartly chose to use minimal CGI to enhance its emotional heft. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding and the landscapes around the are wonderfully realised – you can feel every inch of the boat they are on, and by extension the sea surrounding them. Sure there is one dodgy computer-generated moment (no getting away from the “moment”, however) but Kormaku handles everything beautifully. It’s a shame then that the ponderous, schmaltzy script that surrounds it isn’t as good, stopping the film jumping from good to excellent with its nauseatingly sickly dialogue undoing all of the good work done elsewhere.
But just like J.C. Chandor’s superb All Is Lost, Adrift lives or dies on its two leads who shoulder almost all of the film themselves just as Robert Redford did. There’s a lot of emotional and physical weight on both of them given the story but the duo handle everything thrown at them (even the aforementioned dialogue) with aplomb with Woodley the star turn. Since her debut in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants, Woodley has been slowly making huge imprints not least her stunning turn in Big Little Lies, but here she delivers a towering, raw performance that’s the best of her film career thus far.
There’s something magical about films set at sea that lures us in time after time and Adrift is no different but where others have faltered for various reasons (see this year’s The Mercy), Kormakur’s film has enough theatrics and emotions to keep us involved, not least for it’s two lead performances. Not perfect, but a good ride while it lasts.