Friday, 6 July 2018

Movie Review: Adrift (2018)




The plot: While journeying by boat from Tahiti to San Diego, Tami (Shailene Woodley) and Richard (Sam Claflin) end up in the middle of Hurricane Raymond and both their boat and themselves end up bearing the brunt of it. As Tami tries to get the boat back into working order, and caring for Richard's post-wreck injuries, she must find a way to get to dry land before the sea claims them.

Not a whole lot to go on with this one, so the cast rundown is going to be brief. Casting Woodley and Claflin as romantic interests is the kind of decision that is near-impossible to screw up, given their respective histories with romantic roles and being able to perform even in sub-par productions. Thankfully, that possibility isn’t wasted here, as not only do they both perform quite well in their own rights, their chemistry is really damn effective. For the kind of movie this is, one where the connection between the leads has to be as strong as our connection to the narrative in order to work, their scenes together give a real sense that this is something worth watching an entire movie centred on. Woodley ends up shouldering a lot of the dramatic tension throughout, and between the practical effects for her wounds and the ungodly diet she went through during production, she does more than adequately as the film’s main anchor. Claflin brings his usual charm to the screen, and even though he spends a hefty chunk of the film unable to move around, he brings some real sombreness to the proceedings.

Last time we checked in with director Baltasar Korm├íkur, it was with the similarly survival-driven Everest back in 2015. One can only hope that this film would look as good as that one does, and to be fair, this does have some good visual chops to it. Swapping out Everest’s Salvatore Totino for DOP Robert Richardson (The Hateful Eight, Live By Night, Breathe), we get some nice natural scenery as we watch Tami and Richard’s courtship, and once the ship hits the fan (I’ll flog myself for that one later), the frame makes us aware of just how rare actual solace is in this scenario. For every scene involving struggling to work with a broken ship, or flat-out seeing it get upturned (through some wonky but still engaging effects work by Milk Visual Effects), we get moments with the two taking a very ragged breather in-between all the chaos. Even though some of the camera work can be… questionable (it seriously feels like Woodley was filmed arse-first in way too many scenes, giving some unfortunate Snowden flashbacks), the use of framing overall makes the audience cherish the quiet as much as our characters do… if only because it means letting the story settle down.

The way this story is structured is, frankly, annoying. It starts in media res with Tami waking up in the wrecked boat, then cuts to five months earlier on dry land. It’s like the story has been cut down the middle and then the two halves were spliced into each other. Moment of panic on the boat, moment of cute in the past, moment of panic on the boat, moment of cute in the past, etc.; the editing for this is rather basic, to its own detriment. Because it keeps cutting between the crux of the drama (Tami and Richard trying to make it to dry land) and the prelude of the drama (Tami and Richard meeting and deciding to set sail), the impact of both ends up suffering. The tension gets cut short at every turn because, right when it feels like something is about to snap, FLASHBACK! And right when the chemistry between the leads fills the screen, FLASHFORWARD! Admittedly, there is thematic reason for the story to be presented in this fashion, but it’s not enough to get over the fact that the constant pulling in and out of tension saps away at a lot of the film’s energy.

But just as it feels like the film is turning into too much of a snoozer, the relationship between Tami and Richard really starts to kick in. Working with a far-less-crowded cast list this time around, Korm├íkur manages to actually bring out the character in our lead characters. Not only that, we are given a better look at the whys of the main story; namely, why they ended up in this predicament in the first place. When the fear of death and starvation starts to creep into the dialogue, we see how both Tami and Richard are not holding out much hope of rescue… and yet, they are content in each other’s presence. Just knowing that they are together during this ordeal is enough, and as Tami puts it, she wouldn’t change that for anything. It’s a tragically romantic look at this brand of nautical disaster (compared to the sobering tone of The Mercy, this might as well be a comedy) but thanks to the strength of the performances, it actually holds together. As we watch them in an increasingly dire situation, their affection for each other ends up building as the film carries on, right to the bittersweet ending.

All in all, this is a decent romantic drama that could have benefited from some more lucid editing and possibly some less lecherous cinematography. The acting is absolutely solid, allowing the rest of the production to basically coast if it has to, the visuals capture both the unnerving grandeur and the humbling proximity of the events, and while the writing can be rather plain in areas, it still gives this look at a based-on-actual-events romance enough urgency and earnestness to make it palatable. I can’t guarantee that this will be to everyone’s taste (I got pretty drowsy at times) but it’s a reasonable offering.

It ranks higher than Duck Duck Goose, and as much as I want to posit possible Chinese propaganda as my reasoning here, it’s mainly because that film was rather disposable… well, more so than this, at any rate. Adrift may have some unfortunate sticking points but it still delivers at what it sets out to be: An engaging romantic disaster in the least cynical use of that phrase. However, since this is still rather dull around the edges, and even at its core, it falls short of the equally-muddled but more emotionally potent Winchester.

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