Maybe saying that Adrift is "loosely based" on a true story is a little bit of a spoiler.
For, obviously, that story wouldn't have been available to be adapted to the screen had Tami Oldham Ashcraft not lived to fashion a memoir about her ordeal. Still, screenwriting twins Aaron and Jordan Kandell (Moana) and David Branson Smith (Ingrid Goes West) were able to avoid making the inevitable seem prepackaged in this sturdy, familiar survival story.
In 1983, 23-year-old Tami (Shailene Woodley) leads an exotic, enviable existence sailing from island to island in the Pacific. Having escaped a dull existence in repressive San Diego, she's content to work just enough to support her wanderlust. When she meets a young Englishman named Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin) she finds a like-minded sailing companion. But before they can set sail on a tour of the Pacific Rim, Richard's father (Jeffrey Thomas) and stepmother (Elizabeth Hawthorne) ask the two to tow their yacht to San Diego so they can leave for a flight to London.
While Richard and Tami are formidable sailors, this 4,000-mile journey isn't coming off without a hitch, as the title suggests. While they behave prudently, the weather defies predictions and a hurricane wrecks the yacht. The power is gone, the radio is dead and Richard is nowhere to be found when the storm abates.
To keep Adrift from becoming monotonous, Icelandic director Baltasar Kormakur (101 Reykjavik, The Sea, Everest) relies heavily on flashbacks. Because we know Tami is in deep trouble from the beginning when she wakes up in the damaged vessel, the suspense comes from discovering how she got there.
Having ably re-created an avalanche on the world's tallest mountain, Kormakur effortlessly captures the slow terror of facing death at sea and the gorgeous island Richard and Tami leave. The storms look sufficiently scary. The makeup crew make Woodley and Claflin look appropriately emaciated, and Robert Richardson, who won Oscars for his cinematography for JFK, The Aviator and Hugo, delivers a seemingly endless series of jaw-dropping images.
While it's probably a concession to reality, it is refreshing to see a film where a female protagonist isn't passively waiting for a rescue. Because she's often 1,500 square miles from help, she becomes a jill-of-all-trades in order to survive. Even if she bungles a task or two, lack of initiative will get her killed.
After having seen her flail in the misguided Divergent series, it's also reassuring that Woodley can deliver with worthwhile material. That said, Tami and Richard's romance seems a little undercooked. Both are attractive specimens, but they are risking their lives for a love that seems less than all consuming.
Adrift follows in the tradition of some terrific aquatic films such as All Is Lost and Kon-Tiki. Like its predecessors, Adrift avoids pointless voice-over. It also has a protagonist who is a struggling sailor, but one whose determination is inspiring.
MovieStyle on 06/01/2018
87 Cast: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin, Grace Palmer, Jeffrey Thomas, Elizabeth Hawthorne, Tami Ashcraft, Kael Damlamian
Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Rating: PG-13, for injury images, peril, language, brief drug use, partial nudity and thematic elements
Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes
Print Headline: Sea whirled; Powerful but predictable Adrift isn’t a total shipwreck