Movie Review: Adrift

Adrift is a romance drama and survival thriller, based on a true story about a young seafaring couple, who faced one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in recorded history. The deep sea misadventure stars up-and-coming young talents, Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin, floating somewhere between the perilous All is Lost with Robert Redford and rose-tinted The Mountain Between Us, starring Idris Elba and Kate Winslet.

Life of Pi, White Squall, A Perfect Storm, All is Lost, Unbroken, Titanic, The Poseidon Adventure… it’s no secret, Hollywood has a fascination with deep sea survival adventures. Man against the elements, the triumph of the human spirit, overcoming death and surviving against the odds… pitting man against nature is an epic and grueling tale worth repeating. The ocean represents emotion, adversity and change, which makes survival stories compelling, inspiring and even empowering. 

Adrift is directed by Baltasar Kormákur, best known for 2 Guns, Everest, The Deep and Contraband. While typically geared towards action films, Kormákur plows back into his experience of shooting The Deep, another deep sea survival drama. Born in Iceland, Baltasar Kormákur’s name makes him sound like a rugged adventurer and he even looks like one. While hardy and tending towards male-led actioners, Kormákur doesn’t stand in the way of Adrift’s strong feminine edge. Adrift also has a Nicholas Sparks type energy, which is coaxed out by the screenplay’s deep-set romantic element and star pairing.

 “I am sailing, I am sailing… no Rod Stewart, not now!”

Woodley is a fine young actress, best known for her lead roles in the Divergent series and The Fault in our Stars. A plucky girl-next-door type actress, she’s found a showcase performance in Adrift, which plays to her strengths and allows her to take charge. As producer, you get the impression that Woodley is using this particular lead role to demonstrate her commitment to the craft and full range of abilities. She shares the screen with the handsome Claflin, who is also a star on the rise, known for Me Before You and The Hunger Games. Enjoying good chemistry, it’s a sweet gypsy romance between two restless souls in a nomadic young woman and a rugged, rambling skipper.

Adrift enjoys a well-balanced mix of genres, creating wonderful contrasts between bleak survival drama and the summery optimism of a budding romance. The film starts in the deep end, paralleling the dire present situation with flashbacks, explaining how the characters came to be adrift at sea and the events and relationships leading up to that fateful moment. While Adrift navigates some well-worn paths, it’s largely held together and compelled by Woodley’s solid performance ably steering the film through its emotional tides.

There have been a number of survival dramas of late, but few have played the romance card as expertly, making Adrift seem like a mature and engaging Nicholas Sparks adaptation. This is a powerfully acted drama, an inspiring true story and a well-balanced film that glides through the water with relative ease. While the survival adventure tropes make it seem decidedly familiar, it’s empowered by a fresh angle, a touching romantic tone and a strong lead performance from Woodley.

The bottom line: Spirited