Review – ‘Adrift’ is a shipwreck saga with an emotional heart

Poster for 2018 survival adventure Adrift

Genre: Drama
Certificate: 12
UK Release Date: 29th June 2018
Runtime: 96 minutes
Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Writer: Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell, David Branson Smith
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin, Grace Palmer, Jeffrey Thomas, Elizabeth Hawthorne
Synopsis: A young couple must fight for survival when they are left drifting in the Pacific Ocean after their yacht is severely damaged in a hurricane.



When Adrift first starts, Shailene Woodley is already in deep water. The yacht on which she is sailing has been caught up in a devastating hurricane and, as a result, she has been separated from her boyfriend, played by Sam Claflin, and is trying to get the vessel to safety single-handedly. The film, from Everest director Baltasar Kormákur then loops back around to the beginning of the story, showing the audience how Woodley and Claflin got to be in these dire circumstances.

This is a bold way of approaching the story at the centre of Adrift, adapted from the memoirs of Tami Oldham Ashcraft – the character played by Woodley. The non-linear time structure sits in stark contrast to the steadfast conventionality of the aforementioned Everest – Kormákur’s last attempt at depicting a real life disaster. The end result, though, is that Adrift lacks that movie’s genuine tension. The story cuts randomly between Woodley and Claflin on the boat – she quickly retrieves his severely injured body from the water – and their courtship as gorgeous travellers passing through Tahiti.

The performances are, in many ways, the saving grace of the movie. There’s a clear spark between Woodley and Claflin, right from their initial meet-cute – he butchers a fish in front of her, before discovering she’s vegetarian – and the relationship between them is believable throughout. Both stars are graduates of YA franchises (Divergent for Woodley and Hunger Games for Claflin), but each has excelled in more adult, mature roles and this is among the best work either of them has pulled off.

Adrift, though, is consistently a victim of its own disjointed storytelling. Even in the midst of the hurricane that places the couple in danger, the movie sees fit to cut back and forth through its multiple timelines. The storm itself is visually impressive, but it’s entirely lacking in tension because of the fact the audience has already seen what happens next and, even in the moment, the film isn’t able to keep the focus on one scene for long enough to create an impact.

It’s when the focus is on the human beings rather than the raw power of nature that this movie works best, in contrast to Everest which thrived when Salvatore Totino’s cinematography was able to take centre stage. Claflin, and especially Woodley, excel with roles that are well-written and nicely realised, leading to a heart-wrenching final twist of the knife that works better than it has any right to, thanks largely to the stellar work of two of the best young actors in the world today. This film might be all at sea on occasion, but these actors have the wind in their sails.


Pop or Poop?

Rating: Pop!

Strong performances are largely enough to rescue a rather under-cooked and misjudged take on a true story with Adrift. It’s a dramatic tale of survival, anchored by Shailene Woodley’s physical, committed work. Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur is unable to bring the same magisterial spectacle he managed in Everest, but this is another successful foray into the world of real-life disaster.


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