In 1983 Tami Oldham and Richard Sharp set off from Tahiti to deliver a yacht to San Diego. During the voyage the couple encountered a furious hurricane that capsized their boat, forcing a fight for survival adrift in the open ocean. Director Baltasar Kormakur takes this premise and organizes a film that functions in part as a melodrama about a passionate budding relationship between two free spirits, and a raw tale of survival amidst the treacherous and vast ocean.
The film focuses on Tami’s (Shailene Woodley) journey; she’s a free spirit from California, working odd jobs to move from one exotic locale to another. Tami is reluctant to let anything get in the way of her life’s experiences, she operates on the ambition to be immersed in the world.
While on a Polynesian adventure she meets another free spirit named Richard (Sam Claflin), an experienced sailor who has his own yacht. They fall in love and are soon making new experiences together. Richard asks Tami to sail the world with him.
“Adrift” utilizes an interesting narrative device, jumping around the timeline of the couple’s relationship, specifically between their romance and survival. It’s an interesting technique that helps to balance the film’s themes and keep it from becoming another sappy romantic film that happens to have a third act, which turns into a harrowing battle of life versus death.
In one scene we get a moment to see the couple enjoying a beautiful excursion on a small beach and in the next scene we see a desperate couple rationing food to survive. It’s a great emotional split that helps with establishing the characters and their relationship.
Unfortunately it also separates some of the better emotional aspects, especially some of the passionate and intense moments that sell the romantic believability for these two people. While it doesn’t ruin the experience it does leave some moments hallow.
Shailene Woodley is good in the lead role, holding the far and wide emotions with ease. There are moments that require the actress to handle some very raw moments of despair, and other moments that require a more subtle approach to aspects of fear.
Sam Claflin plays Richard opposite Ms. Woodley; the actor has an undeniable charm but the chemistry between the two just doesn’t come together as nicely as it should.
This is particularly because of the bisected structure of the storytelling. But also because the script demands that the romance be told through short snippets that occur during adventures taken by the couple, which mostly consists of the couple looking longingly into one another’s eyes or embracing amidst beautiful landscape. It’s picturesque but never more than surface level romance.
Still, Mr. Kormakur delivers a human tale throughout the film, one that focuses less on the extravagance and spectacle of nature and more on the resilient aspects of the human spirit.
When the storm eventually comes, the emphasis never turns into an action, heavy-set piece but remains on a couple entangled in a fight for their lives. It’s during this terrifying moment in the film that the love story and survival story complement each other the best.
“Adrift” may not always work as a romantic drama or as story of survival aboard a broken ship in the ocean. However, when the film eventually connects the emotional dots between the relationship of love and survival, it works quite nicely.
Dir: Baltasar Kormakur
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin, Grace Palmer, Jeffrey Thomas, and Elizabeth Hawthorne
2.75 out of 5.00