Synopsis – A true story of survival, as a young couple’s chance encounter leads them first to love, and then on the adventure of a lifetime as they face one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in recorded history.
My Take – Over the years there have been quite a number of films which focused on the concept of being stranded at sea, some of which include, In the Heart of the Sea (2015), All Is Lost (2013), Life of Pi (2012), Open Water (2003), among others and of course the recent UK release The Mercy (2018). While all this films begin with a different prologue and set different motivations for this characters to find themselves in the open seas, in the end they all tread towards a similar goal, i.e., to survive in the sun kissed and low on supplies condition with whatever means possible.
Last weekend, also saw a similarly conditioned film from director Baltasar Kormákur (Everest, 2 Guns, The Deep), who based his latest action-adventure drama-romance on Tami Oldham Ashcraft‘s memoir ‘Red Sky in Mourning: The True Story of Love, Loss, and Survival at Sea‘, that tells the remarkable true story of Tami and her boyfriend Richard. The reason I wanted to see this film was because I do enjoy shipwreck or ocean disaster based films, as they usually end up being grand visually and are a great reminder of how cruel nature can be. Yet, as far as comparisons go this film feels a lot like the director J. C. Chandor film, All is Lost, except that it has a non-linear narrative, less peril, more romantic, and a heck of a lot more dialogue.
While timeline jumping does not always work, it works for someone looking to spend 96 minutes of their time without much exposure. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad film per say, it’s just that the film is pretty standard, and despite being anchored by a truly great Shailene Woodley performance and some harrowing moments, it never lives up to its factual account.
Set in 1983, the story follows Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley), a single 24-year-old adventurer, originally from San Diego, who has not returned home for years, and has been moving from place to place on a worldwide voyage of self-discovery. It’s in Tahiti, where she crossed paths with a dashing sailor, Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin), a 33-year-old handsome and charming British sailor, who built his beautiful boat by hand, and has been sailing around the world on a similar journey.
After quickly falling in love, both use their personal tragedies as an opportunity for joy and adventure, and dream of sailing the world together. But much to Tami is unliking, Richard accepts an offer from a wealthy older couple to sail their yacht back to San Diego, in exchange for $10,000 and a First Class airline tickets back to Tahiti, mainly as she is not ready to be back home yet. But the thought of being separated from Richard seems hard, and decides to join him, for this long fruitful journey of love. Unfortunately for them, what they didn’t prepare for was to find themselves in the middle of a Cat-5 hurricane at sea that damages the boat – and nearly kills them. While the best solution seems to allow the prevailing currents to carry the boat east, in an attempt to navigate towards Hawaii, with minimal food, other minimal resources, and Richard’s leg and ribs being badly broken, the dedicated couple must try their best to keep from dying in the middle of the ocean.
Yes, the plot is a bit thin and often not as focused on the duo’s survival as it should, but it deserves credit for being well-shot and how it manages to convey the fear of being lost and stranded in the ocean. Much like director Kormakur‘s previous Hollywood film, Everest, this film too tackles the survival instinct and the hardships that sometimes go with humanity’s interaction with the different elements conveyed. Right from the opening sequence, Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur has his cinematographer Robert Richardson photograph a long tracking shot of Tami splashing about in the cabin of a waterlogged sailboat looking for her Richard and trying to get her bearings. As she emerges from down below, Richardson continues the shot with an invisible wipe of an ocean wave above the boat before Tami realizes he is missing.
The breathtaking sequence sets the pace for what is an amazingly rich tapestry of photographic wonders. The images on display throughout are so skillfully crafted that your eyes can’t help but drink it all in. Your eyes won’t move from the screen, even during some of the more intense moments of bodily and ship-based disaster the film has to offer. Director Kormákur, a sailor himself, is the perfect filmmaker for the tale, as he captures some beautiful shots of sunset and sailing in the ocean. The geography of the boat is dynamic and multi-faceted, never claustrophobic. Tami owns every inch of the craft – underneath and around it, inside and on top. There are many incredible underwater stunts as she makes her vessel as seaworthy as possible, a tiny person wrestling this 55-foot boat into submission. He also delivers a thrilling hurricane sequence with a sailboat facing against giant waves that are seconds away from crushing it.
Director Kormákur, through the film skimps on the arduous and miserable details of the 41 days adrift more than, say, The Revenant. The 41 day ordeal is told from Tami’s view, and the strength of this 23 year old gets the treatment it deserves with some absolutely terrific sequences filmed at sea. Though Tami doesn’t battle sharks or have Wilson the volleyball to keep her company, her coping mechanism is even more mind-bending. But here, the relationship is at the core of the story. It is the relationship that brought Tami to this place, and the relationship that keeps them alive. For many of us, the concept of sailing from Tahiti to San Diego with someone we’ve known for a few months would be a bit overwhelming. But these two lovebird and adventurous spirits head off thinking of it as fun and an opportunity to fund even more fun.
It’s a story of the power of love and the strength of survival instincts. We see how she sets about repairing and righting the ship with a frantic energy. She miraculously discovers a gravely wounded, barely alive Richard clinging to the dinghy in the middle of the sea and nurses him aboard the boat. She navigates their way thousands of miles to Hawaii with a sextant, a wristwatch and her intuition. Also rarely has Peanut Butter played such a vital role in a film, and it’s nice to see Woodley gain a producer’s credit since she was a driving force in getting the film made. Yes, there is good chemistry between Woodley and Claflin, but my big issue with the film has to be that Tami Oldham and Richard Sharp’s relationship didn’t work for me. It seemed oddly rushed and unnatural since they only spend approximately 10 minutes until they both rush into the relationship. Given that this film has 96 minute run time, they could’ve spent more time building the relationship to make it seem more believable.
Another obstacle that drags down the film’s otherwise stellar efforts is the editing of the film, which jumps erratically between the flashbacks of Tami and Richard’s courtship before the storm and Tami’s efforts to save herself and Richard post-shipwreck. The script flashes back and forth between Tami and Richard’s courtship and the events that lead to their disaster at sea; and the salty, sun bleached torture of floating some thousand miles in the hopes of running into Hawaii. The idea seems to be that Richard and Tami’s love keeps them afloat after the storm, but this is Tami’s film without a doubt; Richard is more of a good-looking dreamboat character. Although, I love postmodern films and nonlinear storytelling, but the jumping back and forth in time kind of ruined the energy of the film. We know there’s a hurricane in the film by reading the description, but showing what happens after the hurricane hits takes away from the suspense of the dangerous journey and makes the hurricane, one it appears, to be a watered-down evil. I just didn’t think going back to their love story was as effective for focusing on the aftermath of disaster. And by the time we reach the script’s big surprise, a twist which some may predict it while others may be surprised and heartbroken, it just seems uneventful, and perhaps because we’ve already seen other films do it better.
Thankfully the actors keep us drifted for its entire run time as Woodley and Claflin are more than magnetic enough to win us over with their charm. Sam Claflin brings an earnest, clear-eyed authenticity to Sharp, giving weight to a role that requires him to be immobile for half of his screen time, like the delightful Me Before You. Yet it’s Shailene Woodley who shoulders the film, by giving in a great performance, by holding the screen effortlessly as Oldham, contrasting her sunny optimism in the flashbacks with desperation and determination post-hurricane. Once the storm hits, Woodley’s role becomes fiercely physical, demanding she swim, sail, and scrape as if her life depends on it. She handles all this with aplomb, and makes a scene of eating peanut butter relate ably orgasmic. On the whole, ‘Adrift’ is a pretty fair romantic drama film, which despite narrative issues, deserves praise for its great cinematography and Woodley‘s strong performance.
Directed – Baltasar Kormákur
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 96 minutes