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Adrift review - Woodley steals the show in Komákur's epic survival drama


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Verdict: a brutal epic well worth a watch.

Baltasar Kormákur's Adrift (2018) is a genuinely pleasant film that mixes intelligent filmmaking decisions and beautiful performances to accumulate in the creation of a decent epic drama.

Closely following the writing of the real-life Tammi Oldham, in her memoir 'Red Sky in Morning', Adrift is the true story of Tammi (Shailene Woodley) and her fiancé Richard (Sam Clafin), who are employed to sail a yacht from Tahiti back to Tammi's home in San Diego.

Beginning with Tammi awaking amongst the floating debris of a half-sinking yacht, alone and utterly confused, Kormákur quickly sets the tone of a woman desperate for survival. Tammi and Richard endure the terrifying conditions of Hurricane Raymond, a huge tropical storm registering 40-foot waves and winds of 145-knots.

Before finding Richard clinging to a lifeboat in nearby waters, Kormákur cruelly cuts to Tammi's initial arrival in Tahiti 6 moths earlier. He quickly establishes a narrative form that follows the telling of two of the plot lines, life before the storm and the survival that follows. By not choosing a chronological narrative form, Kormákur made his first clever filmmaking decision. He allows for the constant creation of suspense, not peaking too early by throwing the characters into the depths of the storm in the opening scenes. Instead he twists the parallel narratives of the harmonious life before the storm and the rugged desire for life after it.

Kormákur does however show some signs of heavy handedness by obviously foreshadowing many of the films more dramatic scenes early on. Although the lead up to some of these  moments may be made disingenuous by his lack of subtlety, they are, however, saved by the incredible performance of Woodley, which casts aside the need for any sort of build-up in the first place.

Clafin delivers a perfectly adequate and heart-warming performance throughout the entirety of the film, from the early scenes of falling for Woodley to the latter scenes of lying broken, being cared for by her. However it is undeniably Woodley who carries the weight of the film on her back, delivering a truly exceptional performance.

With the audience falling for her from the off, the opening scenes are the first real examples of her undying charm and merciless wit. As Clafin puts it, 'I find it easy to be pretend to be in love with someone who is so easily loveable,' a sentiment that is so easily taken away from Woodley's performance.

Casting aside the rosy scenes of Richard and Tammi falling for each other in front of sunsets that ooze ideas of paradise, the raw and gutsy survival scenes are what pushes her into a much higher league. It is impossible not to fall in love with her brutal normality, allowing you to see yourself in her tragic and brutal circumstances; from juggling the caring of the gravely injured Clafin, battling the elements, and her own desire for survival.

Adrift is a film of many fluctuations. From the highs and lows in Woodley's performance to the highs and lows of Kormákur's filmmaking ability, the use of cinematography is one factor that stays at a continual high level. Kormákur discussed how he sought to almost include mother nature as a character, an idea that is incredibly evident throughout the film, with the cinematography being the most successful tool in its creation.

The idealistic shots of the incredibly rich sunsets that are layered on top of the deep blue vastness of the ocean, evoke memories of family holidays and lazy afternoons laid out on the beach. Cinematographer Robert Richardson can then cast aside any fondness you associate with the ocean by arousing fear and suspicion with his underwater shots, and producing an unwavering fear of solitude with his extreme long shots of Woodley alone in the vast emptiness of the ocean.

Adrift is a thoroughly pleasant watch, with characters that you genuinely root for, and Kormákur's direction showing strong promise, despite heavy-handedness in many areas. Woodley emerges as the star, with her brutal performance lifting it from mediocracy into the realms of a solid epic drama. A film well worth the watch.

Adrift drifts into cinemas on June 29th.

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