Adrift (2018) Review

The lure of a life of freedom on the open ocean is an easy one to understand, at least when the sea is a beautiful blue expanse, stretching out to an endless horizon. But the romantic picture postcard ideal doesn’t last long for Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) and Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin) when their trans-Pacific voyage is interrupted by Hurricane Raymond with devastating results.

There’s no doubting how harrowing the ordeal that Tami Oldham Ashcraft went through was, but this bland Instagram melodrama barely manages to scratch the surface. Oh, sure, the macro-crisis is well articulated but the series of smaller challenges of day to day survival simply float past one after the other, resolved with little in the way of tension or difficulty.

Both leads try hard, Producer/ star Shailene Woodley especially giving a performance so earnestly recognition hungry Leonardo DiCaprio would be proud, but the chemistry just isn’t there and the intricately interwoven narrative structure of flashbacks and current predicament (which seems cynically designed to disguise the lack of actual incident) actively works against them developing a genuine rapport. The script is so flat and clumsily insipid, it feels like the writers who adapted the real-life memoire, secure in the knowledge that this was a true story and things actually happened this way, decided they didn’t need to do anything to make it ‘feel’ authentic on screen. Thus the fine performances and the impressive if repetitive visuals hang from the screenplay as lifeless as the sails of a schooner becalmed in the doldrums.

Baltasar Kormákur does a decent job, with the help of Cinematographer Robert Richardson, in capturing the tropical idyll of Tahiti and the vast desolation of the open Pacific but, once the storm has passed, the drifting vessel doesn’t offer much kinetic visual appeal and the frequent aerial shots of the tiny boat on the dark blue water get a bit tedious, even if he does try to keep things fresh moving it from Corner to corner like a DVD player screensaver. More impressive is the dedication to realism with much of the movie – including the ocean scenes – being filmed on location and only a couple of dodgy CGI moments during the height of the storm sequence (par for the course from the director of “Everest”) let the side down.

It sounds ludicrous to say it, but this traumatic true story plays out too easily on screen, robbing it of its rightful drama. I suspect the book was much better at showing the experience was much worse.