Everest at sea
Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin are all at sea in this maritime thriller that’s based on a harrowing true story.The vast, unknowable ocean has long been one of cinema’s most beloved locales. Sometimes, it contains wonders. Sometimes, it contains answers. Sometimes, it’s the passage to freedom. And sometimes, it’s a bloody great body of freezing cold water that’s just full of endless peril.
It’s 1983, and Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley - The Fault in Our Stars, The Divergent Series) is a full-time dreamer/explorer/wanderer. She finds herself in Tahiti, and runs into kindred spirit Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin - The Hunger Games, Journey's End). It’s not long before they’re head-over-heels in love, engaged and keen to go out adventuring together. They land a lucrative gig sailing a wealthy couple’s boat back to the US, the proceeds of which should pay for another year’s worth of exploring. So they step aboard.
Don’t be tempted to Google the real-life events that inspired this film before you watch it.
Out at sea, it isn’t too long before our young heroes run into some trouble. And not just any trouble… an awe-inspiring, bone-jangling hurricane. The type of storm that tears up ships with ferocious waves and chilling gales. Naturally, this isn’t great for Tami and Richard.
Director Baltasar Kormákur has previous for showcasing imposing natural phenomenon on the big screen (Everest), and does a superb job bringing the storm to life here, along with the moody, energetic cinematography of Robert Richardson. It’s a fully immersive experience, guttural and visceral and downright scary.
Sometimes, even if you could know something, it’s better not to. That’s definitely the case for this film; don’t be tempted to Google the real-life events that inspired this film before you watch it.
The small vessel is battered every which way, and after a particularly violent surge of weather Richard demands that Tami seek refuge below deck. When she eventually emerges, it’s complete carnage. The quiet of the storm belies the devastating wreckage left behind.
The storm leaves its mark on the storyline. The film changes from a romantic meet-cute story about two twenty-somethings trying to find themselves into a traumatic survival saga about two twenty-somethings trying to find a way to survive.
The actual action is extremely well done, and the chemistry between Claflin and Woodley is wonderful. Without doubt, Woodley is the star, and she’s excellent throughout – eminently believable as the starry-eyed world traveller and full of gritty determination and expertly steely-eyed as the desperate hero.
The plotting at times seems, frankly, seasick.
The plotting at times seems, frankly, seasick. The excruciating action at sea – which, for the record, contains some watch-through-your-fingers gruesomeness – is intercut with flashback scenes from the pair’s land-based romance. Though it’s well-acted and pretty inoffensive, it does manage to take the wind out of the battered sails a bit. A lot of the flashback feels unnecessary, and by extension a lazy storytelling device; it means the action flags a bit, and after we’ve established who these two are and why we care about them, a lot of the other scenes feel dull.
Woodley’s performance is captivating, and she uses the flashback and present-day boat universes to squeeze every inch out of Tami. She shows her full range here, and is utterly captivating. She drags the film along when it very much starts to live up to its name. Not as outrageous as The Shallows or as classic as Open Water, Adrift is nevertheless a passable summer emotional rollercoaster and worth a watch.By no means a wreck, this film is buoyed by Woodley, and her performance is a life-saver.
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