REVIEW ‘Adrift’ carried by Woodley, survival sequences

“Adrift,” the latest picture to have Shailene Woodley in the lead role, is a film that has enough good features to keep it afloat, but there are a few negatives keeping the picture anchored.

Based on a true event, “Adrift” details the story of Tami Oldham (Woodley), a woman who was living in Tahiti in 1983 and began a relationship with a sailor named Richard (Sam Clafin). The film showcases how they met and their attempt to sail across the Pacific Ocean as part of a job to bring a ship from Tahiti to San Diego.

Unfortunately, while sailing, the two ran into Hurricane Raymond, which began as a weaker storm but grew quickly into a Category 4.

When “Adrift” shows Tami fighting for survival, such as working to repair the ship or setting up a makeshift sail, the film hits its stride. Individuals surviving awful ordeals often make for compelling subject matter, whether it’s in television or movies, and this is no different. Watching her quest to live through the matter and also keep Richard alive despite his injuries are engaging and hook an audience.

A problem, though, is that the film is structured in a sort of back-and-forth format. The movie introduces Tami in the aftermath of the storm, then does a flashback to her arriving in Tahiti. It then cuts back to her on the ship surviving and then again flashes back to her meeting Richard. This continues on most of the film, with multiple flashbacks littered throughout.

Inherently, there’s nothing wrong with this structure per se, but the execution here wasn’t as good as, say, “Wild” from 2014. In that film, the flashbacks served the purpose of portraying the main character’s downward spiral, without having the movie be told in a chronological fashion. It also worked because it was a consistent tone, being a character study from start-to-finish.

With “Adrift,” though, it was as if Director Baltasar Kormakur and crew wanted to fit in a romance film alongside the survival aspect. The fact is that the survival story featured here is much more interesting than the romantic tale being told in half the film. As a result, the picture loses steam when a flashback starts. It’s a bit jarring and seemed somewhat unnecessary when the survival aspects are dramatic enough.

It’s not that the film should have eliminated the romance all together. That was obviously a major part of the real woman’s true story and it was clearly important to include. Even more, it had some charming moments. However, cinematically, it could have been scaled back.

There’s also a bit of a twist that takes place in the movie’s third act that didn’t particularly work. The intention with it was clear, but it sort of undercuts some of the scenes earlier in the film.

Despite, these problems, though, as previously stated, the movie does work quite well in telling this woman’s journey. This is in part thanks to Woodley’s fine acting.

Right when she’s introduced, Woodley portrays Tami as a down-to-Earth, resourceful person. Both during her times of survival and during her time on Tahiti, the character is convincing, thanks to Woodley’s work. Tami’s stress, desperation and exhaustion are all on display and very well portrayed by Woodley.

It’s also noteworthy that Clafin is solid in his screen-time and he has a solid chemistry with Woodley.

Credit also has to go to the cinematography. There are points when the film is shot with ‘shaky-cam’ meaning the camera isn’t fixed and is moving to add a sense of chaos. While this can be a detriment in an action movie, where a person can actually miss the action, it’s a strength here because an audience can feel like they’re actually at sea. It’s quite intense and suspenseful.

“Adrift” has enough going for it that it’s worth checking out on the big screen. The lead performances are good, especially from Woodley, and the story of survival and the relationship between the two is compelling stuff. The film’s story is at a bit of a disadvantage, though. 3.5 out of 5.


Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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