Shailene Woodley’s Hazel Gaze Gives Adrift Direction

Movie Review: Adrift

Director Baltasar Kormákur hoists his mariner’s knowledge and fills his narrative sails with believable dangers in this unfathomable survival tale based on the true story of Tami Oldham.

Adrift

4/5

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Sam Clafin

Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur

Running time:

Rating:

 By Katherine Monk

“Red sky at night, sailor’s delight… Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.” It’s one of oldest recorded sayings we have. Even Jesus, supposedly, knew briny weather lore, for he says in Matthew XVI: 2 — “When in evening ye say it will be fair weather: For the sky is red.”

Yet, Jesus wasn’t really talking about the weather. He was making a point to the Pharisees, telling them they could read the signs of the changing sky, but not the signs of the changing times. A spiritual storm was brewing, and these power elites who demanded proof of divine provenance from the prophet had no idea they would be swept into a raging sea of new ideas.

The spiritual odyssey has always found great power in elemental metaphor, which is why truly literal stories of survival at sea land an existential punch to the solar plexus. It’s also why Adrift pulls you into the deeps, and doesn’t let go.

The spiritual odyssey has always found great power in elemental metaphor, which is why truly literal stories of survival at sea land an existential punch to the solar plexus. It’s also why Adrift pulls you into the deeps, and doesn’t let go.

Based on Tami Oldham Ashcraft’s personal experience chronicled in “Red Sky in Mourning: A True Story of Love, Loss and Survival at Sea,” Adrift takes us back to the pre-9/11 world of carefree travel in the early 1980s, when you could decide to go somewhere and usually, pack a bag, take your passport, and go.

Tami (Shailene Woodley) is a 20-something university grad from San Diego who got on a boat and headed to the South Pacific. On the docks, she met Richard Sharp (Sam Clafin), an Englishman with his own boat, and his own mystery. The two fell madly in love, and when Richard was asked to pilot a friend’s 44-foot yacht from Tahiti to San Diego, it offered the promise of time together, and enough money to start a new life.

Well, you know things go horribly wrong from the very title. A hurricane turns their boat into a tub toy and Tami wakes up alone, her head bleeding, inside a half-flooded cabin.

Sharing much in common with the Robert Redford movie All Is Lost, Adrift functions as a sailors’ emergency manual, offering survival skills and effective Macgyvering of available materials. Yet, it’s also a love story.

Director Baltasar Kormákur tacks back and forth between the defining moments of Richard and Tami’s romance and the entire sailing voyage. At times, it feels like we’re making little narrative headway, and merely zigzagging. Yet when the wind comes up, and we find ourselves in the middle of the existential storm, the story moves so fast you can hear the keel howl.

Director Baltasar Kormákur tacks back and forth between the defining moments of Richard and Tami’s romance and the entire sailing voyage. At times, it feels like we’re making little narrative headway, and merely zigzagging. Yet when the wind comes up, and we find ourselves in the middle of the existential storm, the story moves so fast you can hear the keel howl.

Woodley and Clafin not only have to hang on to the dramatic rudder by themselves, they actually had to sail. Kormákur is an expert sailor, and in his previous films Everest and The Deep, he proved he could make mother nature the main star.

The ocean is ambient. Gentle one minute, explosive the next, she offers death and life-force in the same curl of time. For the two actors, playing opposite the infinite blue represents a significant challenge, but they have such dedication and commitment, the harder it gets, the more heroic they become.

Clafin is quietly perfect as the wounded lover. Woodley is the one who has to woman-up and figure out what to do next.

Because the star of Allegiant and The Descendants has a proven ability to play strong females, it’s no surprise her depiction of Tami is full of grit and humour. What makes her performance so potent is her talent for making it all feel undeniably real.

Her feelings hang like water vapour in every frame, condensing over time — or simply blowing away in the emptiness. Through her cracked skin and blisters we can see the course of time, but we follow the real journey through her eyes.

Woodley’s hazel gaze is unique. There’s are flecks of stubborn determination that blur into adolescent doubt, but it always comes across as honest and quietly inquisitive. She’s processing, and to play Tami — a woman trying to keep her true love afloat in the middle of the ocean on a broken yacht — that’s the most important part of the role.

All Kormákur had to do was present the scenarios in a believable fashion, and show us Woodley’s facial expressions as they reflect the moments. There’s no question he delivers. Yet, he gets even more by keeping the whole thing on a non-Hollywood scale. Most of this movie was shot on the water. They used real boats. They all got wet. They even went out in bad weather to capture the storm scenes. Only the hurricane was manufactured in post.

Woodley’s hazel gaze is unique. There’s are flecks of stubborn determination that blur into adolescent doubt, but it always comes across as honest and quietly inquisitive. She’s processing, and to play Tami — a woman trying to keep her true love afloat in the middle of the ocean on a broken yacht — that’s the most important part of the role.

In short, we are on the voyage with Tami and Richard. We believe, and yet, we can’t — the circumstances are so unfathomable, the chances of survival so small. How did anyone ever live through such a terrifying reality?

Kormákur plays it all out with a forensic eye, and a sailor’s understanding of the environment, to make sure every detail of the survival story rings true. Woodley carries the emotional side with the same careful attention. She never falls overboard. But she always lets us sense the soul-shattering horror of being alone.

As a result, Adrift seems to captures the current winds of change; a deeper sense of alienation transforming the landscape, turning political waters into whitecaps and voter sentiment into freak swells of hostility.

Shailene Woodley’s Tami faces the red dawn with a will to survive, but also a will to love. Her performance is the reason why Adrift is more than an amazing piece of fact-based action. She turns every second she’s on screen into a living metaphor — from diving in to the water, being overwhelmed by waves of grief, and raising the halyard of intelligence to see another day. She’s doing it all, and being human at the same time. Her courage in the face of chaos suggests we may all be stronger than we know, we just have to use our hearts and our heads in common purpose.

@katherinemonk

 

THE EX-PRESS, May 31, 2018

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Shailene Woodley and Sam Clafin hold on for a wild ride into the existential abyss in this unfathomable survival tale based on the true story of Tami Oldham. Director Baltasar Kormákur (The Deep, Everest) tacks back and forth between the defining moments of Richard and Tami’s romance and the entire sailing voyage. At times, it feels like we’re making little narrative headway, and merely zigzagging. Yet when the wind comes up, and we find ourselves in the middle of the existential storm, the story moves so fast you can hear the keel howl. -- Katherine Monk

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