Review: Adrift

Score: C+

Director: Baltasar Kormákur

Cast: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin, Jeffrey Thomas, Elizabeth Hawthorne

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rated: PG-13

Adrift is based on a true story and one of my worst nightmares: Tami (Shailene Woodley) and Richard (Sam Claflin) set sail from Tahiti to California, when they're caught in a hurricane and shipwrecked, hundreds of miles from any other living soul. The film is often a thrilling, harrowing survival thriller, with every technical aspect done perfectly. But there's one crucial piece that doesn't work, and unfortunately it's the anchor of the story. For almost the entire run time, the only people onscreen are Woodley and Claflin, with Woodley doing most of the talking and action. Unfortunately, she isn't up to the task.

She's risen to the occasion before, but often had a stellar writing and co-stars (Big Little Lies and The Spectacular Now) to help her out. In her Y.A. movies, she's adequate at best. But in this film, she has to do all the heavy lifting - literally in some cases - and while she's clearly giving it her all, it's not convincing. It doesn't help that the script is weak and she and Claflin have negligible chemistry.

Adrift uses a structure similar to 127 Hours, another real-life tale of bravery. The film begins with the couple's shipwreck, then flashes back to how they met and wound up in this situation. But unlike Danny Boyle's Oscar-nominated film, Adrift doesn't reveal much about who these people are. Yes, we get facts (both loners and free spirits), but that doesn't mean we know them.

But the film is directed with expert precision by Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur, who elevated the standard action flicks 2 Guns and Everest. They really filmed on the Pacific Ocean, instead of a water-logged set, giving the film a huge boost of authenticity. And the cinematography (by three-time Oscar winner Robert Richardson) is among the best of his career, capturing the vastness of the ocean, the beauty of Tahiti and the claustrophobia of the underwater scenes.

So Adrift is a mixed bag. It's never boring, but it could have been great. Case in point: One night, Tami hallucinates a ship passing nearby. Instead of letting the agony play out on her face, she literally screams, "Am I hallucinating? Am I hallucinating?!" A better film wouldn't spell everything out for us.

One day Woodley may be up for the acting challenge Adrift presents her. But she's just like her character: out to sea.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.

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