For Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley), drifting through life at the age of 24 was something she chose to do. She wore the freedom like a shield of honor hanging on her shoulder. With a broken home and high school behind her, the teenage Tami left San Diego, California to go find a life on the great open sea.
She eventually found love in the equally free-spirited sailing Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin), as well as a catastrophic hurricane a few months after it. Even Tami didn’t want to drift as much as she did after the hurricane wrecked her boat.
Baltasar Komakur’s Adrift details the true story of how a courageous woman reacted to having a storm rip through life, stranding her at sea. Using the same thrilling high-wire survival techniques he brought to the similarly powerful true story in 2016’s Everest, Komakur never allows the camera to stray too far from Woodley’s Tami. It’s her show and the actress owns it.
If you think you know what kind of talent Woodley is, pulling from doomed projects like the Divergent series or her solid work in HBO’s Big Little Lies or The Spectacular Now, rethink that notion. The 26-year-old actress officially arrives with this tough role, which calls for Woodley to tap into every single emotion you can imagine. What if you met the love of your life and thought anything was possible, even sailing across the world on a boat? She makes you believe and connect to that emotion. I’ve long adored the actress, but this performance is something else. She commits mind, body, and soul here. She’s been good before; here, Woodley is great.
Claflin is up to the task in a role that’s not a walk in the park. He holds his own in a role that required a poetic wit along with a handyman’s sea intellect, but one where the actor couldn’t go overboard. Again, you may seem to have a read on the actor from his more popular role in the Hunger Games series, but he turns a new page here, breathing life into a guy who never let a challenge overcome his desire to live life to the fullest.
It is the chemistry that Woodley and Claflin create that makes the film reach a higher level. If you don’t love them nearly as much as they love each other in the film, the story doesn’t resonate as completely. They are the faces of the film with a cast list that doesn’t stretch past ten names. Komakur wisely isolates the action around them, sticking to the story and resisting the urge to stuff the film with unneeded characters. Woodley and Claflin make you believe in Tami and Richard.
The script has three prints on it, but you wouldn’t know it from the execution of the actors. Aaron and Jordan Kandell along with David Branson Smith each lend something unique to the story without simply tirelessly passing the laptop around the room. The moments after the storm where Tami and Richard are battling conditions that eat away at the soul slowly carry restrained yet potent dialogue.
Do yourself a favor and avoid trailers or articles on the film. Allow Tami and Richard’s story to hit you flush like a vicious wave in the middle of the ocean. The less you know, the better the film will hit you. There are certain parts of the climax that will hit you harder if you know little going in other than two lovebirds trying to survive for weeks while stranded 1,500 miles from shore. Like two people set to sail across the sea, only take the essentials into the theater.
If there are more heartbreaking true stories about mother nature and natural disasters pushing humans to the limits, I hope Komakur tackles them. He manages to resist the Michael Bay urge to just stick to the action, instead finding a silver lining between the theatrics and the personal drama. He knows how to make the action strike you in a poignant manner.
Let’s put it this way. There’s a moment at the end of the film with Tami that will just break your heart. Make you sad in a certain way. If Woodley/Claflin don’t light the spark and if Komakur doesn’t allow the chemistry to mature, the moment wouldn’t resonate as much.
I didn’t expect much going in Adrift. Maybe an escapist thriller with a decent lead performance. I ended up getting a lot out of it.
If you want a different kind of date night with your loved one, take him or her to see Adrift, a romantic disaster film-and a powerful true story that moves.