If it’s not quite as exciting as watching Blake Lively square off against a particularly pesky shark in The Shallows from two summers ago, there’s still enough of interest to keep the new nautical drama Adrift afloat.
Headlined by two YA stars — Shailene Woodley of Divergent and Sam Claflin from The Hunger Games — Adrift is based on a 1983 incident that was placed into print with the release of the 2002 book Red Sky in Mourning: A True Story of Love, Loss, and Survival at Sea. Those who are unfamiliar with the true-life tale might want to shut their eyes during the film’s opening credits, since the acknowledgment of the authors somewhat serves as a spoiler and hints at how this drama ultimately plays out.
Woodley (who also produced) plays Tami Oldham, a 23-year-old free spirit who hooks up with 34-year-old Richard Sharp (Claflin) as she’s out exploring the world. Both enamored with the ocean, the two fall in love and get engaged. Richard ends up agreeing to sail his friends’ luxurious yacht from Tahiti to San Diego, but he won’t do it without Tami by his side. And so off they go, little aware of the raging storm that will damage the boat and possibly take their lives.
Adrift recalls 2013’s All Is Lost, which found Robert Redford’s taciturn loner similarly stuck at sea with only his wits to keep him alive. Whereas All Is Lost was basically an existential one-man show, this one is as much a sweet love story as a grueling survival tale, although its realism is tempered with flights of fancy.
Whether this latter angle strengthens or weakens the picture will differ depending on each viewer — more detrimental is the decision to tell this tale with flashbacks and flashforwards, a narrative device that often breaks the mounting tension of watching this couple trapped on a waterlogged vessel and facing almost certain death.
Baltasar Kormakur’s direction is deft, Woodley’s performance is exemplary, and the cinematography by three-time Oscar winner Robert Richardson (The Aviator) captures the majesty of the ocean while occasionally showcasing the misery it can cause.
The inherent limitations of the material prevent Adrift from making enough waves to stand out from the competition, but it does offer an alternative for those seeking a reprieve from the usual deluge of summer blockbusters.