Review: Adrift

Distributor: STXfilms

Director: Baltasar Kormákur

Writer: Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell, David Branson Smith

Starring: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin

Genre: Romantic Drama

Rating: PG-13

From my observation and study, fear of the ocean is culturally universal. Every civilization throughout time has some horror tale related to the seas and whatever monstrosities dwell within it.  It’s not hard to see why. We know more about the surface of the moon than we do about the ocean, and mankind has always had a primordial fear of the unknown. I don’t think that’s what Adrift wants me to be thinking about, though.

Content Guide

Violence/Scary Images: Bloody, gory leg wound, which grows worse and turns gangrenous. Bloody, open head wound and streaming blood. Self-stitching of the same head wound. Scenes of peril during the crashing storm. Arguing, stress.

Language/Crude Humor: A use of “f**k,” more than one use of “s**t,” and uses of “hell,” “damn,” “oh my God,” and “frickin’.” A use of “Christ” (as an exclamation).

Sexual Content: Tami is shown naked, very nearly full-frontal (seen from a not-quite-clear angle). Her nipples are frequently visible through tank tops. Kissing. Brief sex talk.

Drug/Alcohol Use: Tami smokes pot in a long, clear close-up. Some social drinking (wine and beer). Brief cigar smoking.

Spiritual Content: None.

Other Negative Themes: Overtone of the romance is marked with fornication.

Positive Content: The movie is about overcoming intense odds and heroically facing great challenges–i.e., trying to survive when survival doesn’t look likely.

Tami is a strong role model when it comes to surviving after the storm. She shows incredible courage and strength in the face of great stress and anguish. But before the storm, she’s depicted as a drifter who doesn’t really have a place to live and just goes where the wind takes her; she avoids contact with her family rather than talking to them. But she’s still kind and an appealing character.


I don’t think it can be said that there is any one singular monolithic purpose for art as a whole discipline. Each individual work has its own purpose, and it would be remiss to analyze or critique all works under only one rubric of meaning. We wouldn’t examine a Taylor Swift song the same way we would examine a Shakespearean sonnet, as they are fundamentally different products of very different approaches. We might as well try to judge a cookbook by the principles that make for a good car owner’s manual.

With that said, I do find that every work at least in the narrative arts should serve to direct us to some concern of a transcendent or interpersonal level. We ought not be asked to leave ourselves only to find ourselves again in another prism of observation.  So I always welcome and encourage narratives to bring us into a state of experience that take our focus off the familiar path and to the roads less traveled. If we must revisit a familiar road, let us find at least find a new turn, notch, or dimension to its form.

When watching Adrift, the latest film directed by famed Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormákur, I found myself entertaining a lot of somewhat transcendent matters, such as humanity’s relationship to the ocean, which is essentially a consideration of humanity’s relationship to the unknown, which is archetypally a dwelling on humanity’s relationship to chaos. It is good for a movie to bring me to such a state of meditation, but it can only be counted as a merit on the part of the film if it relates directly to the essence of what the movie has as a focus.

Sam Claflin and Shailene Woodley star in Adrift Courtesy of STXfilms

I can’t really say that Adrift, for all its impressive execution and praiseworthy flourishes in both its actors’ performances and in its director’s camerawork, actually has such lofty issues in mind. The structure is charmingly unconventional, though the plot built upon it will be quite familiar to many. Based on the true story of Tami Oldham and Richard Sharp, we are introduced to a young couple who met in standard fashion on the shores of Tahiti and seem to have little in the way of any direction or purpose to their lives. This devil-may-care, live-free-and-die-young attitude of theirs at first seems to provide all the fun and freedom imaginable.  Sadly, those who stand and live for nothing will fall for anything.

Adrift managed an impressive turn by opening at both the introduction and the aftermath of the couple’s boat being set upon by a destructive squall, progressively bringing us to the ends to those two parts of the arc afterward. The plot built atop the structure never falters or bores, but it never reaches above the base level either. In every moment during the phase after the climatic hurricane that set the couple adrift in the Pacific Ocean for over 40 days, we see what amounts to little than a grindingly generic survival drama complete with hallucinations, moral debates about how far one should go to stay alive, and celebratory reactions to life-saving mundane natural occurrences. The moments before the disaster are permeated with the kind of half-witted existential considerations of young misguided people who are old enough to have graduated from college but still fly by the seat of their pants with no sense of direction or purpose.

Mind you, the actors are really doing a fantastic job with what they’ve been given. Shailene Woodley, who also helped to produce the film, is making solid progress in her campaign to distance herself from being typecast as “discount Jennifer Lawrence” after those shoddy Divergent movies. Her character here goes through a handsome array of various emotional beats and sequences, and she handles almost all of them like a champ. Seams started to show near the end when she’s in a state of nearly complete desolation, but that is an area that she will most likely refine with time and commitment. Former Hunger Games star Sam Claflin is very much in his element here with the sea and survival situation, and he manages incredible synergy with Woodley in every moment they are together. I can imagine other directors seeking to do more conventional romance dramas with these two in the future.

Not to show any disrespect to the trying experiences of Ms. Oldham, but Adrift is one of those films that I can’t say is bad enough to discourage or good enough to recommend. If you happen to find yourself upon it, dear reader, you might it resonating with you in poignant ways, provided that you haven’t seen any other films like it in several years (or at all). If so, let me know.



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Tyrone Barnes

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