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Review: Woodley's solid performance can't keep ‘ADRIFT’ steady

Courtesy of STX Entertainment


At the start of “Adrift” director Baltasar Kormakur (“Everest”) immediately thrusts the audience into the midst of the peril, as we see Shailene Woodley waking up abroad a capsized ship, stumbling around and realizing her soon-to-be husband is nowhere to be found. Sound familiar?

Kormakur is no stranger to the abyss of retreaded stories, and in “Adrift” he attempts to make whats old new again, and if not for Woodley anchoring some of the more level headed sequences, there wouldn't be much to write home about.

Woodley plays Tami Oldham, in this, we're told, true story, who's just rolled into Tahiti circa 1983. She's a free spirit, drifting around the world without so much a plan, just that she wants to travel and is in no quick hurry to head back home. Picking up some odd manuel labor-jobs with a local friend, the movie hardly wastes time introducing us to the other protagonist: a strapping, swoon looking guy named Richard (“The Hunger Game's” Sam Claflin) sailing his own boat (which he built by hand) into port. He's been flying solo for years, which sets up the early stages of this love affair to be all the more gooey. Needless to say, they fall in love and decide to hit the open seas together.

They both have big aspirations, and are mapping out paths from Hawaii all the way to Japan. But then Richard bumps into an old British couple he knows, and they ask him to sail their yacht back to California. In return, they'll pay him $10,000 dollars – enough to make those honeymoon dreams a reality – so they accept the offer.

And that's when a category four hurricane put a dent in their plans.

From the opening scene, “Adrift” teeters back and forth between the dreamy escapades and the devastating tragedy of the pairs current situation. An interesting framing device that doesn't seem to live up to its potential. Rather than progress the action, I felt like it hurt the overall vibe. In a way, it rids the film from building suspense around the characters, save for a last second gotcha that, while decently executed, arrives on the cusps of a film that lacks real substance. I respect the bold moves by our filmmaking crew, but a traditional approach might've been the better route. It's the basic equivalent of in one ear and out the other.

“Adrift” isn't a horrible disaster flick, and I don't mean to make it sounds like it is. After all, the film brings back remnants of Robert Redford's “All is Lost” - with its searing images of a yacht upheaved and moving like a bobble head in the Pacific. Not to mention, the story itself is truly endearing. Which needs to be attributed to Woodley, whose excellent here, as she has to deal with real struggles that range from her own mortality and reflection of her life aspirations. The problem is not with her, or the true life story, it's the mechanics. I appreciate that Kormakur, at least, tried to take a slightly different path in his narrative construction, but that still doesn't stop “Adrift” from feeling like a routine exercise.

Grade: C

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