Disaster at sea in more senses than one.



Back in 2013 J.C. Chandor took a huge gamble in filming All Is Lost, a sea saga with only one character and no flashbacks as it told of the terrible struggle for survival following a collision between a vessel and a container that holed it. That film may have been short on entertainment value, but it illustrated just how vividly such a drama could be portrayed on screen. Now we have another sea tale, this one based on actual events in 1983. Here too there is a disaster at sea leading in this case to what would eventually be over forty days adrift on the Pacific Ocean. 


These events came about after a couple visiting Tahiti were summoned home due to illness in the family. Consequent on that they approached a British seaman, Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin) as someone who might for cash be willing to sail their yacht all the way back to San Diego. As it happened, Richard had recently encountered an American girl, Tami (Shailene Woodley), who, uncertain as to what to do with her life, had unexpectedly recognised in Richard the man of her dreams. In the circumstances when taking up the offer, Richard asked that Tami should be allowed to accompany him. Thus, it was that two people set out to sea quite unsuspecting of what fate had in store for them.


The director here is the accomplished Icelander Baltasar Kormákur who now moves back and forth between films shot in his own country and others made abroad in English. However, that division has not led to an output divergent in character. Indeed, Adrift can to some extent be regarded as completing a trilogy of films. In 2012, the Icelandic tale The Deep told a true story of survival after a fishing boat capsized at sea. 2015 brought us Everest which concentrated on a 1996 expedition which, following a storm, became another struggle to survive. Adrift differs from these two works in having a woman as its main protagonist yet shares much in common with them. Unfortunately, save on the technical level, this does not extend to quality since Adrift is much inferior to both The Deep and Everest (and for that matter to Kormákur’s underrated American thriller 2 Guns).


The problem stems from the screenplay. In contrast to All Is Lost, the writers side-step the challenge of telling what is here virtually a two-hander in chronological order. They prefer instead to insert throughout a series of flashbacks. These are so frequent that they totally disrupt the continuity and thus destroy our sense of involvement (it even results in the film going backwards to show for the first time towards the end of the movie the crucial storm that damaged the yacht). The true story was indeed a love story as well as a tale of endurance, but the dialogue is such that neither Tami nor Richard come across as individuals portrayed in any depth. The banality of the flashbacks is underlined by the music score that also in a different tone dominates all of the more dramatic moments at sea thus cutting across any sense of reality there. We know from The Descendants (2011) and from the recent Journey’s End respectively that Woodley and Claflin both have talent but, given this film’s tone and structure, their efforts here cannot bring Adrift to life.




Cast: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin, Grace Palmer, Jeffrey Thomas, Elizabeth Hawthorne, Kael Damlamian, Tami Ashcraft.


Dir Baltasar Kormákur, Pro Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell, Baltasar Kormákur, Ralph Winter and Shailene Woodley, Screenplay Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell and David Branson Smith, from the book Red Sky in Mourning: A True Story of Love, Loss, and Survival at Sea by Tami Oldham Ashcraft and Susea McGearhart, Ph Robert Richardson, Pro Des Heimir Sverrisson, Ed John Gilbert, Music Volker Bestelmann.


Huayi Brothers/Lakeshore Entertainment/RVK Studios/STX Entertainment-STX International.
96 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 29 June 2018. Cert. 12A.