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.