Published May 31, 2018There were 21 major storms during the epic hurricane season of 1983, Hurricane Raymond among them. Low in damage and in loss of life, this particular hurricane found infamy as a backdrop for one of those against-all-odds tales of human survival that seems tailor-made for cinematic adaptation: two lovers take to sea, but the sea does not take to the lovers.
Richard Sharp and Tami Ashcraft met and fell in love in Tahiti the way many travelers do — swapping stories of adventures past and marveling at the beauty of the world in such a way that pats them on the back for seeing so much of it. Sam Claflin (Me Before You) and Shailene Woodley (Big Little Lies) are earnest in their portrayal of the couple and do their best with cheesy, hostel-romance dialogue about true love, sunsets and sailing off into "the infinite horizon." This works more than it should, since the film is so well-edited; flashbacks of the idyllic courtship are incorporated seamlessly into the couple's violent struggles at sea; Love Boat meets The Perfect Storm.
When disaster hits in the form of monster waves and a sinking boat, Adrift becomes Tami's film. With Richard out of commission, she must use every ounce of strength to get the battered vessel across 1500 miles of sea to Hawaii, while dealing with physical and emotional trauma. Much like Blake Lively in The Shallows, Woodley commits to the physical grit of the role — giving herself stitches with a fish hook, squinting into the sun and howling with fear at the reality of death.
Tami's struggle is more than enough to fuel the film, which is what is so frustrating about the superfluous efforts the screenwriters made to keep Richard front and centre. The narrative device used, apart from being emotionally manipulative, robs agency from the real-life Tami, who had only a sextant and a map as her guides. It begs the question: if a woman achieves any feat without a man's voice in her head, is it even worth filming? Let's get Sandra Bullock's character in Gravity on the line to chip in.
Visually, Adrift is a knockout. The scummy water of the dockyard, banana bunches in a Tahitian market, Woodley's bloodied knees —everything is vibrant yet weathered, and that's just before leaving shore. Director Baltasar Kormákur (Everest) knows how to shoot the ocean, only showing its depths when the audience is relaxed enough by the sun-dappled waves to forget the void below.
Adrift, while doing little that hasn't been done before, is still a solid film. An epilogue showing real footage of Tami and Richard is an emotional touch that brings a tenderness to the proceedings, reinforcing the notion of love as both puny and infinite.