Updated: Feb 6, 2020
Adrift is a competently made, well-acted, lost in the ocean drama, that is decent enough while it lasts, but adds nothing new to this subgenre. In part, it is hindered by its structure, which switches back and forth from the scenes where the couple is stranded to flashbacks of their whirlwind courtship. All of the interesting drama is on the boat, thus making the other stuff kind of pointless. However, the direction is solid and an emotional performance from Shailene Woodley keeps things moving.
Adrift (91 minutes without the end credits) is based on the true story of a man, Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin), and woman, Tami Oldham (Woodley), who need to figure out how to get to land after their boat is badly damaged in a storm. Richard, the veteran sailor, is seriously injured, leaving Tami to attempt to save them. These scenes are pretty good, largely because of the intense desperation Woodley brings to them. While Claflin mainly lays around in agony, Woodley gives a physical performance that is stronger than the overall movie containing it. Even if you have never taken a boat into the ocean, it is easy to relate to her fear. She is terrified and constantly struggling to fight off hopelessness. Yet she knows that if she does not try to do something, it will be impossible to survive this situation. Unfortunately, due to the structure, the drama inherent in that section of the story is unable to fully build.
It makes sense that the filmmakers wanted context for the relationship between the characters, as well as how each of their lives led them to that moment. So some backstory is understandable. I have no issue with stories that jump around in time, however, Adrift would probably have benefited from being told in a linear fashion. It does not help that the flashbacks are not very interesting. Woodley and Claflin have little chemistry together and there is nothing in those scenes that is nearly as intriguing as the fight for their lives. Since we already know where they are going to end up, there is no drama in their relationship until that point. Additionally, whenever the film goes back in time it punctures the tension that has been built up on the boat. I wanted to get completely invested in it, but the movie insisted on taking me away to something that was not entirely necessary to the story it was telling.
Perhaps the filmmakers thought the real story was in the relationship between Tami and Richard, with the idea being that seeing them fall for each other would add more power to what was happening on the ocean. Maybe Adrift was intended to be a romance. Either way, that aspect did not work for me. Your mileage may vary. I just kept waiting for the movie to return to the boat. Everything else was a distraction.
The scenes of them stranded are good enough for a mild recommendation. Though it is too bad the rest of the production failed to muster the truth and strength Shailene Woodley brings to her role. She is the only part of this based on fact film that actually feels real.
3 out of 5
Shailene Woodley as Tami
Sam Claflin as Richard
Directed by Baltasar Kormákur
Written by Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell and David Branson Smith