18 July 2024

‘Adrift’ Review by Alex Straker

Rating: [rating=3]
Release date: OUT NOW in cinemas

‘Everest’ director Baltasar Kormákur returns to deliver this tense nautical nightmare based on a remarkable true story. It has its fair share of flaws, but ‘Adrift’ is ultimately anchored by strong performances from its accomplished leads.

In this post-Titanic world, everyone knows that combining star-crossed lovers with the brutality of the sea just doesn’t bode well. Such is the case with Adrift, at heart a romance survival story based on the harrowing true story of sailors Tami Oldham and Richard Sharp, who were caught in Hurricane Raymond in 1983.

The film follows Tami (Shailene Woodley) and Richard (Sam Claflin) from their initial chance meeting, through the early blossoming of their romance and on to their ill-fated encounter at sea with a storm that will leave them fighting to survive.

Where Adrift really succeeds is in making the viewer feel as stranded and helpless as its increasingly weary cast. For a film that spends the majority of the time out on the open sea, it’s actually a somewhat claustrophobic 90 minutes. Kormákur keeps the camera unrelentingly close to Tami, using every inch of the boat to heighten her rising panic and hysteria. In those moments it resembles it resembles the Sandra Bullock film Gravity, as Woodley’s Tami encounters obstacle after obstacle, where everything that could go wrong does, forcing Tami to get ever more creative with her solutions.

Audiences are overly familiar with these disaster movie set pieces, but Kormákur pulls a few tricks out of the bag to make this film feel fresh. In general Adrift opts for suspense over special effects – it’s a world away from effects-laden Hollywood fare like the recent Geostorm, much to its credit.

The storm sequence is notably effective due to its minimal CGI, with large chunks taking place below deck, where the cast is tossed around like pinballs at the mercy of the waves. And for the most part, it works, keeping you on the edge of your seat, waiting for when the next big (possibly fatal) wave will come crashing down.

Further setting it apart from similar films, Adrift makes clever use of flashbacks so that the events leading up to the storm play against the development of Tami and Richard’s romance. It offers some much-needed respite from the tension, and balances out ample moments of peril with the ‘will-they-won’t-they’ budding love of two youngsters, unaware of the path of destruction lying ahead of them. Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin have undeniable chemistry, and their seductive banter feels natural but never sickly sweet. Both actors showcase the whole gamut of emotions within the film’s running time, with Woodley, in particular, delivering an impressive, nuanced performance.

It’s a shame then, that Adrift runs out of steam in the run-up to its climax. After a strong build-up that seems to promise a dramatic conclusion, the abrupt ending feels unsatisfying, resolving its problems too easily. Because of this, some of the big final developments don’t pack the emotional punch that they should, a shame considering the potential in what came before.

But there’s still enough on offer in Adrift to entertain audiences, largely down to its stars’ and director’s dedication to pushing the characters (and viewers) to the very limit of their endurance.

Alex Straker

Drama | USA, 2018 | 12A | 29th June 2018 (UK) | STX Entertainment | Dir. Baltasar Kormákur | Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin, Grace Palmer, Tami Ashcraft

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