Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur
Premise: Based on true events. A couple (Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin) are recruited to sail a boat across the Pacific Ocean. In the middle of the trip they become shipwrecked and struggle to survive while navigating their way to Hawaii.
What Works: The main attraction of Adrift is the chemistry between Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin. The two of them play world travelers who happen into the same port at the same time and fall for each other. Romances require the audience to fall for the lovers. We have to want to see them live happily ever after and Adrift accomplishes that. Woodley and Claflin make a likeable couple and their whirlwind romance is believable. Of the two of them, Adrift is primarily Woodley’s show. When they are disabled at sea, Claflin’s character is severely injured and their survival is dependent upon his female companion. Shainlene Woodley plays her character as smart and resourceful but she remains vulnerable. That keeps our sympathies with Woodley’s character and she is an engaging hero. Adrift is beautifully shot. The film captures the ocean in a range of conditions from placid to violent and the underwater cinematography has the naturalism of a travelogue or a nature documentary. Critically, Adrift never looks like it was shot in a studio tank nor does it appear overly digital. The storm sequence and its aftermath are especially well done. Director Baltasar Kormákur uses his camera in ways that capture the chaos of the shipwreck and when Woodley’s character regains consciousness she assesses what has happened in a single sustained shot that is impressive in its complexity.
What Doesn’t: The story of Adrift is not liner. The narrative leaps backward and forward on the timeline, alternating between the shipwreck and the background of Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin’s characters as they meet and fall for each other and start out on their voyage. The filmmakers are overambitious with the crosscutting. The narrative structure interrupts the dramatic momentum and dilutes the drama after the shipwreck. Adrift doesn’t provide enough sense of the characters’ pain and peril. They are in a struggle to survive but rarely are those life and death stakes palatable. The attractive Hollywood stars are never made too ugly because the film intends to satisfy the mainstream crowd with its love story. That’s probably the chief reason for Adrift’s nonlinear story structure; it fills in Woodley’s character and fleshes out the romantic relationship. However, the conclusion that the film is working toward actually has nothing to do with the love story and so it is ultimately a red herring. There is a revelation near the end of the movie that is obnoxious. Without giving it away, the twist has been seen before in other movies and it is obviously done here as a calculated play for mainstream appeal.
Bottom Line: Adrift is a satisfying drama of survival. It’s compromised by certain storytelling and filmmaking decisions that are intended to make the movie more accessible. But the filmmakers succeed in making the kind of film that will appeal to its target audience.
Episode: #702 (June 10, 2018)