Adrift review:  Shailene Woodley keeps this sailing drama afloat.

Adrift review by Freda Cooper.

Adrift review
Adrift review

A breakthrough role at just 20 can be a double edged sword. Shailene Woodley couldn’t have hoped for a better launch to her movie career when she landed the role of George Clooney’s daughter in Alexander Payne’s The Descendants (2011). It marked her out as a star in the making, but things faltered. A string of YA romances followed – let’s just forget the ill-fated Divergent series – and one critics’ association nominated her as most in need of a new agent.

But what goes around comes around and she’s back on the up. First came Big Little Lies, currently filming its second season, and now she’s back on the big screen with true-life maritime drama, Adrift, where she gives a star turn. It’s based on the true story of Tami Oldham (Woodley) and Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin), who meet by chance on the other side of the world: she’s travelling, trying to find herself, and he’s a sailor with a taste for adventure. They agree to pilot a yacht across the ocean for some of his friends and what starts out as a blissfully sun-kissed experience turns into a nightmare when they are hit by one of the biggest hurricanes ever recorded. The result is a fight for survival that lasted 41 days ……

The feeling that we’ve been here before is inescapable. The two recent films about Donald Crowhurst and J C Chandor’s All Is Lost (2013), with Robert Redford single-handedly battling the elements, immediately spring to mind. The aftermath of the storm, with the shattered, waterlogged boat and the fruitless efforts to make contact with the outside world are full of echoes. But for Adrift, that’s only half the story. The many flashbacks, showing the development of the relationship between the two, are all about romance and beautiful locations. And, while they’re easy enough on the eye, they also come smothered with a thick layer of schmaltz, which is something of a turn-off.

Adrift review
Adrift review

Director Baltasar Kormakur is back on his favourite territory, real life survival. Having survived the rigours of Everest (2015) with some help from CGI and a few studio scenes (which undermined the film’s credibility), he’s more or less turned his back on special effects and you can almost taste the salt on your lips.  He insisted that most of the sailing sequences were shot at sea – vast expanses of ocean where it’s almost impossible to tell where the water ends and the sky begins – and that quest for authenticity pays off handsomely. If you don’t have sea legs, there are moments when you’ll feel decidedly wobbly.

While the film is almost exclusively a two hander, essentially it’s all about Tami and her determination to survive against insurmountable odds. She even puts her vegetarianism to one side and eats raw fish, her other mainstay from their provisions being peanut butter, which she eats with her fingers – and never has that humble sandwich filling looked quite so sexy. Woodley is the film’s driving force and has more than enough presence and ability to let everything rest easily on her shoulders. Claflin, on the other hand, doesn’t have that much to do other than be romantic before they set sail and suffer nobly after the storm. After showing what he’s made of as an actor in Journey’s End, he seems to have reverted to the more lightweight, romantic roles we usually associate with him, which is disappointing.

Adrift doesn’t offer anything especially new. Its appeal comes from its remarkable true story, the drenching storm sequence at sea and a performance from Woodley that reminds us what we’ve been missing. It’s never in any danger of completely capsizing, but she more than keeps it afloat single handed.

Adrift review by Freda Cooper.

Adrift is released in the UK on Friday, 29 June 2018.