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Review: "Adrift"

by Chris Feil

Adrift opens with one of the more terrifying examples of recent one-take fakeout shots - the camera weaves in and out of the water overtaking the cabin of a yacht, as a bloodied Shailene Woodley comes to. Frantically, we follow her above deck to see the half-sunken ship is as irrevocably damaged as we feared. But the panic really comes as the camera dizzyingly reveals nothing but empty steady ocean surrounding her.

The film abruptly flashes back, alternating between her story leading up to crisis and her struggle for survival at sea. Woodley is Tami, a young world traveler avoiding a tumultuous family history at home in America. She meets a handsome and similarly dispositioned Richard, played by Sam Claflin, and their romance is fast and escapist. A lucrative job sailing an older couple’s yacht across the Pacific sets them on a course for disaster, one that leaves Richard incapacitated and Tami left with minimal sailing skills, no tools for communication, and a ship barely capable of more than a steady drag towards an imprecise destination.

It’s true story stuff and it feels like a paint-by-number version of it, and completed in only primary colors. Perhaps too briskly paced at just over 90 minutes, the film gives minimal character nuance and keeps its lovers speaking in platitudes. Director Baltasar Kormákur is no stranger to the disaster genre and does well with those aspects, but its a more human element that the film is sorely missing. The fatalistic dread of the elements is captured best in Robert Richardson’s swaying seasick lensing, often enveloping the stars in the unfeeling ocean and visually expressing their internal doom in ways the film is strangely disinterested.

Part of the blame could be attributed to the sluggish dual narratives at play. The back and forth structure positions the battle to survive the hurricane and the most dire stakes after weeks at sea against one another, never really allowing anything to connect as we get to know them or watch them suffer. It’s a scattered story without detail, constantly deflating its tension with a limply established love story (not helped when Claflin, as unengaging as ever, literally and figuratively just lays there).

The film’s penchant for those digitally Frankensteined single takes is just the beginning of its compulsive fakeouts - Adrift also relies on a final act narrative twist that makes the structure read as manipulative. It plays as a missed opportunity for more complex emotional textures, one that could have gifted the relationship onscreen with a more specific take. Woodley however works her ass off to sell this thing.

The internet has been rather mean to Shailene Woodley. And granted her projects of late have brought her more milquetoast qualities to the forefront, while her best work in films like The Spectacular Now and The Descendants mined her understated gifts to involving pathos. Adrift isn't exactly a return to those heights, but that's because the film isn't very interested in Tami's motivations beyond the surface. But the performance, in all its physical rigor and lack of showboating (listen, you get one pun to use on movies like this, it’s a rule), shows why the actress should be given more of a fair shake and projects of more depth. This movie would be fairly lost without her.

Grade: C-

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Reader Comments (8)

Interesting that you say Shailene's best work is in THE SPECTACULAR NOW and THE DESCENDANTS. I liked her in both those films, but thought she was incredible in THE FAULT IN OUR STARS and BIG LITTLE LIES.

June 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

Shailene's filmography ranked:

Really Great: 1. The Spectacular Now

Solid: 2. The Descendants

Big gap

Suspicious/underwhelming: everything else (with the giant caveat that I haven't seen Big Little Lies)

I don't think those top two were flukes. I think she has more of that in her, and I think she cares enough to try. Here's hoping.

June 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterCash

I don't like her. Never have. Never will.

June 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterME

The trailer seemed to give everything away, so... why bother?

June 1, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterforever1267

I thought she was pretty good in Little Big Lies and White Bird in a Blizzard. Like i want to hate you but it’s 2004 and Jude law is leaving you Natalie Portman good.

June 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterChoog

I really like Shailene. The Spectacular Now is what sold her on me and Fault in Our Stars confirmed it. I'll see this sometime soon strictly for her.

June 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterJess

She's getting really good reviews for this performance, even from critics who don't much like the film. So it's going on my to-watch list.

June 1, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterSteve G

I seem to have seen Sam Clafin in a lot of things lately (Me Before You, Their Finest, My Cousin Rachel) but I don't really recognize him from one movie to another, even though he always does a very good job. A nice variety of roles though. He doesn't seem to be type cast.

June 1, 2018 | Unregistered Commenteradri

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