Everest, directed by Adrift‘s Baltasar Kormákur, told the true story of an enormous group of mountain climbers at the mercy of an unpredictable storm upon the highest peak in the world.
Reduce the story to merely two sailors, sailing into the Pacific Ocean, and a storm once again takes the couple to task. Again, this is a true story, taking place between Tahiti and San Diego. When the movie opens with Shailene Woodley, desperately crawling out of a water-filled, upturned yacht, we know the direction of the story. How it transpires is what pulls you out to sea.
Suffice to say, we then move back and forth between Tami Oldham (Woodley) building up the strength to take on the elements as her vessel sinks, and her romance with Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin). Tami is far from a helpless soul. She moved out of home at 18 and immediately travelled, seeing much of the world in the process. Her ambiguous answers to the passport office when she arrives in Tahiti reveals her lack of a plan (and a shocking disregard for protocol – wouldn’t alarm bells in the passport office start ringing if every answer was dismissed so flippantly?). Richard on the other hand is ten years her senior and has made, from scratch, his own boat. It is a magnificent boat but it is the offer of a bigger, plusher yacht, to be sailed across the Pacific, that perks his interest – and sets the two on a dangerous course for a Category 4 Storm.
When watching Everest and The Mercy, another true-story of a sailor lost at sea, the stories are chronological. If you don’t know what happens, then the events that play out are unexpected and truly tragic. Adrift, in contrast, jumps between the result of the storm and their blossoming romance. Indeed, their relationship is crucial to the tale. But the non-linear editing forces you to mentally connect the dots. We know that she will be left alone on the boat. We know that the prospect of sailing the yacht to California will ultimately be doomed. The love story that bolsters the events in place, though passionate and moving, has lasted only months before they set off. Unlike Donald Crowhurst and his adoring wife and children in The Mercy, it is difficult to truly empathise with how close Tami and Richard are in Adrift.
Due to this, Adrift pins everything on the two lead actors. Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin are sincere and strong enough to carry the film, but it feels like a struggle. The beauty of sailing and joy of travelling is rarely captured and the unconventional structure feels like it is to blame. The opening moments, lost at sea, damp and wet with little hope – how can you showcase the wind-swept energy and lust for adventure that sailing invites after that?
Adrift is a functional survival tale with the knots securely tied and the hatches safely shut, but it doesn’t deliver the hook that pulls sailors to the sea. The lovers are comfortable but we are not invested in their relationship as they sail off into the sunset. Kormákur has a few directorial flourishes (in particular a one-shot jump off a cliff is breathtaking) and the story does manage to weave in a trick that, though expected, works. But for all the sincere intention and confident film-making that is on display, Adrift is a little off-course and misses the destination it’s trying to hit.
This was originally published for Culturefly.co.uk in June 2018