Movie review: Shailene Woodley steers the action in Adrift

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Sam Claflin and Shailene Woodley star in Adrift, a based-on-true-events story about a couple that becomes stranded at sea after a hurricane. STX Films Sam Claflin and Shailene Woodley star in Adrift, a based-on-true-events story about a couple that becomes stranded at sea after a hurricane. STX Films

The will to survive is the single most primal instinct in our nature, one that strips away all of the things we use to define ourselves as individuals. Adrift, based on a true story, follows Tami (Shailene Woodley) and Richard (Sam Claflin) on their struggle to find either land or rescue as they float aimlessly in the Pacific Ocean on the remains of a luxury yacht following a hurricane. Director Baltasar Kormákur (101 Reykjavik, 2 Guns) thrusts right into the action, as the film starts with Tami regaining consciousness amid the wreckage, her head bleeding as she makes her way above deck shouting for any signs of life from Richard, who is nowhere to be found. Devastated, she screams his name into the endless expanse.

Adrift
PG-13, 96 minutes
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema

We flash back to the beginning of their relationship on Tahiti. Both are living on the open sea, pursuing opportunities as they arise. It’s the life they chose, but it’s a lonely one, and we watch their evolution from valuing each other’s company to being fully in love. We are then taken back to the boat; miraculously, Tami sees Richard clinging to the dinghy, though with a compound fracture in his leg, it’s up to her to guide the boat and use whatever resources are left to keep them alive.

Adrift is most gripping when it focuses on precisely how grueling Tami’s many challenges are, and Woodley delivers a captivating physical performance. Pulling ropes and adjusting sails is hard work, but when they are broken and your life is on the line, you use every ounce of strength you have. Catching fish with a harpoon, rummaging for food, building shelter, diving underwater to fix the rudder, every one of these actions is filmed in unflinching detail, as Woodley pushes her mind and her muscles to the edge to depict the strain.

Tami’s character and Woodley’s performance are the reasons to see Adrift. The survivalist procedural aspect is compelling and the film looks terrific, but her determination is what elevates this story. She is young, but she is worldly and intuitive. She’s a traveler, but not escaping some dark secret that’s used as a twist. And though Richard is the more experienced sailor, she is more than capable of handling all of the mechanics of navigation herself. Her story is not one of being compelled to learn how to fend for herself without her male role model, a cheap template other films force female leads to endure. It’s the way in which she channels what’s already inside her, and the physical and emotional toll of that.

The flashbacks underline the depth of Tami and Richard’s feelings for one another, and the chemistry between Woodley and Claflin is real. Structurally, it makes sense to contrast the carefree days with the fear and anxiety to come, but it is worth noting that these scenes are not terribly strong on their own. It is not enough to derail the film, and the backstory is important to the resolution, but it is the biggest weakness in an otherwise very effective film.


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