A drift follows the true story of couple Tami Oldham and Richard Sharp, who were lost for many days at sea in 1983. Tami (Shailene Woodley) is a free spirit looking to escape the hustle and bustle of San Diego for the beautiful shores of Tahiti. While there, she becomes smitten with sailor Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin). The two form a relationship that grows stronger through their mutual love of sailing. When Richard is tasked with bringing another couple’s boat from Tahiti to San Diego, he takes Tami with him. But their world is rocked by a strong hurricane that sends them off course. Richard is heavily injured in the storm. With limited supplies and no way to contact for help, Tami takes control of the damaged boat as they set out for the much closer Hawaii, but getting there can prove even more difficult as their relationship, and the will to survive, are put to the test.
The strength in these survival dramas almost always relies on the actors at the center of the disaster, and this film could not have asked for any better than Woodley and Claflin. Both actors form a bond that is tender and romantic, and their scenes together are heartfelt and never hokey, despite some clunky dialogue that tries too hard to be clever. While Claflin is great, this is Woodley’s show, and she steals every scene she is in. Her performance is the perfect blend of vulnerability and strength that is needed to guide us through her perils. Seeing her take charge and sink low is genuinely heart-wrenching and heartwarming.
The performances, while the film’s greatest strength, are not its only strength. What sets this film apart from other tales of survival is the fact that it is told in a nonlinear fashion, cutting between events preceding and following the storm, which helps keep the pace moving while also adding levity to its heavy subject matter. Director Baltasar Kormákur always keeps us involved in the drama by never over-exaggerating the emotions with forced sentimentality. Working with esteemed director of photography Robert Richardson (known for his collaborations with Quentin Tarantino, Oliver Stone, and Martin Scorsese), Karmákur captures the tropical and lonely nature of the Pacific, frequently bringing us closer to the characters’ emotions with closeups while also adding a sense of isolation with some truly gorgeous wide shots that showcase a clear and beautiful ocean. Another great aspect to the desperation is the makeup work. As more days pass, our couple becomes more weary and withered. The makeup sells this in painful detail, accentuating the horror even more. Composer Volker Bertelmann’s score is atmospheric and beautiful.
Adrift could have been another drop in a sea of films about overcoming obstacles and the lengths we go to survive, but it is made with such care and craftsmanship that it exceeds its trappings and honors its powerful true story. | Bill Loellke