Film Review: Adrift

Adrift is based on a book by survivor Tami Oldham entitled Red Sky in Mourning: The True Story of Love, Loss, and Survival at Sea. In it, she recounts the traumatic true story of what she endured during Hurricane Raymond in 1983, one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in recorded history. During this intense two-day hurricane, waves were recorded as high as 100 feet, whipped into a frenzy by winds that reached 145 mph. If you know more details of the story, keep them to yourself! Don’t ruin the viewing experience for others. And if you’re unfamiliar with the story, all you need to know is in the trailer… don’t Google Adrift until after seeing the movie.

Adapting such a well-known true story for the big screen has its inherent challenges, which were amplified by the decision to shoot largely on open water. But it’s also difficult to tell a story that mostly consists of drifting on a boat in the middle of the Pacific for 41 days, with the characters doing little more than eating peanut butter.

However, Adrift starts with a bang—the hurricane has already hit, with Oldham (Shailene Woodley) finally stirring from a head injury that knocked her unconscious during the storm that devastated the yacht helmed by her fiancé Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin). The filmmakers—wisely in this case—present events non-linearly; showing the young couple’s loving first moments together juxtaposed with their terrifying, and possibly last moments together.

This not only addresses the issue of just what to show during their desolation, but it underlines the fragility of their lives and the strength of their fledgling love. These flashbacks are not only endearing but also enlightening, helping the viewer to understand their somewhat questionable decision to set sail in the first place. (A rich friend needs his boat taken from Tahiti back to San Diego, and he offers the young couple a sum large enough to finance a year’s worth of sailing around the world together on Sharp’s own boat.)  Although we know they shouldn’t agree to that fateful trip, we totally understand why they would… we might even agree to it ourselves, high on the honeymoon period and feeling like the world was ours for the taking.

Ultimately, the action sequences are riveting, due to the realism of their depiction, the moving chemistry between Woodley and Claflin, and the believability of the whole situation due to the non-linear presentation that reinforces the fact that it all happened, no matter how unlikely it may seem. 

It was all so tense that, by comparison, its conclusion was a bit underwhelming. I also wished they’d been brave enough to not use a soundtrack during the couple’s days adrift, instead of taking the road traveled by a similar film, Castaway, which eschewed any unnatural sounds while its star Tom Hanks was deserted on his island. But it’s still a well-crafted film with great performances and convincing effects that brings home a powerful true story of young love and iron will. 

  • Adrift
  • Distributor: STX Entertainment
  • Release date: June 1, 2018
  • Genre: Drama
  • Runtime: I say about 100 minutes.
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13
  • Director: Baltasar Kormákur
  • Writers: Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell, David Branson Smith
  • Stars: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin
Richard Bonaduce
Richard Bonaduce
Rich Bonaduce was born and raised in Pennsylvania but has lived in Utah now for half his life. In addition to being a regular contributor as a Film Critic for Salt Lake Magazine, he is also the Film Critic and Entertainment reporter for FOX13’s weekly morning show Good Day Utah. He’s also a drummer in local band “Mojave Rose,” and is much shorter than he appears on television. You've been warned.

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