Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

Survival movies are an interesting sub-genre, because they are one of the few that can be both horrific and inspirational at the same time.  We cringe and hide in horror at the brutal challenges that break our heroes down, and then we find inspiration in the courage and dedication they put into overcoming them.  The new film, Adrift, based on the true story recounted in the book Red Sky at Mourning: A True Story of Love, Loss, and Survival at Sea, tells one such compelling story of survival.

The movie introduces us to Tami Oldham, a 24-year-old circling the globe, taking whatever jobs will give her enough money to move onto the next place.  As the movie opens, she arrives in Tahiti and meets Richard Sharp, a skilled sailor who designed and built his own boat.  The two form an immediate bond and soon fall for each other.  While discussing the possibility of taking a trip around the world together, they are approached by a couple of Richard’s old acquaintances who offer him a large sum of money and a return plane ticket if he would sail their yacht back to San Diego for them.  Richard agrees after they agree to throw in another ticket for Tami so that they could make the trip together.

The two set sail and it is at first wonderful, adventurous, and romantic.  But terror strikes when they find themselves sailing directly into the heart of a hurricane.  After being knocked out during the storm, Tami awakens the next morning to find the boat flooded and Richard missing.  She does find him alive, but his serious injuries render him useless.  A much less experienced sailor than Richard, Tami must do everything she can to get the boat as seaworthy as possible in the hope that they could somehow reach the shores of the Hawaiian islands.

Along with screenwriters Aaron and Jordan Kandell, director Baltasar Kormakur uses a flashback structure to tell the story.  This technique benefits the movie greatly by allowing it to open with the dramatic moment in which Tami wakes up realizing that the boat has been destroyed and Richard is gone, while saving the hurricane disaster for the climax of the film, even though both of these moments actually happen in the middle of the story.  This also helps to balance the tension of the survival story with the character drama that is developed through many of the flashbacks.

Adrift is an obvious technical achievement.  Stories of the troubles that face movies being filmed on the open ocean are legendary in Hollywood with Jaws being the most well-known and, ultimately, successful example.  In order to film where no land could be seen, the cast and crew would spend hours traveling out to sea each day in order to work twelve-hour days where there would be no chance of anything suggesting nearby land to show up in the shot.  Most of the crew also worked through sea sickness, so the fact that they were able to get anything filmed, let alone a movie as visually impressive as this, is quite an accomplishment.

The cinematography by Robert Richardson is a definite highlight of the film.  Richardson manages to capture both the beauty and the horror of the open ocean, sometimes both within a single shot.  And the underwater photography in this film felt especially captivating.

Of course, no matter how good it looks, a film with such a limited cast could not work without captivating performances, and both Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin are affecting and believable as Tami and Richard.  And with Richard laid up for half of the movie, Woodley carries much of the acting weight and she is definitely up to the task.  She does an excellent job of conveying both the character’s drive to survive and her emotional journey coming to grips with the fact that she might not.

The actual survival-at-sea story in Adrift does not stray far from other similar films we have seen before—most recently the 2013 Robert Redford vehicle All is Lost—but the movie does some interesting things with the human story and the relationship between its two leads that definitely make it stand out.  The fact that it is a true story and knowing that someone actually went through this experience only adds to the intrigue.

Adrift opens today at the AMC Kent Station 14, the AMC Southcenter 16, the Century Federal Way, and Regal’s The Landing 14.

Find tickets and showtimes on Fandango.
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