sun 16/06/2024

Adrift review - lost at sea | reviews, news & interviews

Adrift review - lost at sea

Adrift review - lost at sea

Oceanic epic of love, storms and survival

Shiver me timbers: Sam Claflin and Shailene Woodley set sail

There is something irresistibly haunting about tales of epic sea voyages and the perils they entail. Recently we’ve had two versions of the tragic saga of lone yachtsman Donald Crowhurst (not to mention the excellent documentary Deep Water from 2006), and you could lob into the mix the Robert Redford vehicle All Is Lost, Kon-Tiki, White Squall and… er… many more.

But never mind the competition, because Adrift can stand proud as one of the finest specimens of this watery genre. Based on the true story of Tami Oldham and Richard Sharp, which Oldham later set down in her book Red Sky in Mourning, it’s the tale of how in 1983 the couple set out to sail from Tahiti to San Diego, California (a journey of a paltry 4,000 miles). The journey was a kind of celebration of their blossoming love affair, and evidently had a “two drifters off to see the world” quality about it. Disastrously however, the hoped-for rainbow’s end was short-circuited by Hurricane Raymond, a monstrous storm which wrecked their boat and swept Sharp overboard.Adrift filmDirector Baltasar Kormákur has been a competitive sailor himself and also made the vertiginous disaster movie Everest, so he has a firm grip on the terrors and exhilarations of the man-against-the-elements theme. Structurally, he starts off with Tami regaining consciousness after being knocked unconscious in the storm and finding herself and the now mast-less boat in the condition described in the title, then steadily works back and forth in time to colour in the story of how the pair met and gradually began to suspect that they were made for each other.

He got his casting spot on with his choice of leads. Shailene Woodley (who also produced) plays Tami as a wary, damaged soul, escaping from a fractured family background in California by bumming her way around the world’s oceans via a string of sailing jobs. When lone English yachtsman Sharp (Sam Claflin) sails cheerfully into the dock in Tahiti in the Mayaluga, a boat that he built himself, his eyes meet Tami’s across a crowded anchorage, and rather gauche social interaction is not long in coming. Sharp is nursing his own private wounds, stemming from his mother’s suicide, and the couple find an easy sympathy with each other between the limitless horizons of the Pacific.

Kormákur (pictured below on set) fully appreciates the wordless eloquence of sky, wind and water, and his sequences of yachts racing across a luminous, sparkling ocean like seagoing greyhounds must have allowed him to rip up dozens of pages of dialogue. The way the couple bond against a background of spectacular sunsets and days of jumping off a cliff into the rock-pool below could give The Way We Were a run for its money.

Adrift filmBut the whip comes down when the pair accept an offer from Richard’s middle-aged English friends to sail their boat, the Hazana, to San Diego. The lure of exotic adventure plus a financial incentive make it too good to turn down. Nobody expected a mega-storm which resembled an H-bomb blast on the radar plot, and when the boat becomes little more than a scrap of flotsam in the teeth of terrifying, gargantuan waves and howling winds, the terror is palpable.

It seems like a miracle when the traumatised Tami spots Richard through her binoculars, clinging to the wreckage of the Hazana’s dinghy. Though he’s suffering severe leg and rib injuries they’re able to discuss possible survival strategies, with Tami gambling that with a bit of luck they might be able to reach Hawaii. It’s Tami who has to shoulder the burden of being nurse, navigator and caterer, eking out the boat’s meagre supply of stuff in tins in between charting their position with pencil and set-square, and Woodley steps up with a performance of dogged, down-to-the-wire stoicism. The director makes the 41-day survival marathon gruelling, but not quite unbearable to watch.

It’s a stirring, emotional story that leaves a dream-like afterglow. There’s a major twist in the tail which may make you think Kormákur is pushing his luck, but it worked for me. And if you’ll excuse me, I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky…


When the boat becomes little more than a scrap of flotsam in the teeth of gargantuan waves and howling winds, the terror is palpable


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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