Collin's been a movie critic since 2009. In real life he works in marketing and is also a novelist ("Good Riddance" published in Oct 2015).
Sometimes it’s amusing to glance at the posters hanging at the cineplex and contrast the weekend’s new flicks. This weekend may be among the best yet, as the juvenile, goofy, and lazy Action Point opens alongside the riveting true-story drama of Adrift. So, will it be Shailene Woodley as a woman forced to survive alone in the middle of the Pacific for more than a month? Or Johnny Knoxville repeatedly getting punched in the nuts for no apparent reason?
The obvious choice, unless you’re a stoner dude who enjoys shelling out ten bucks to watch a man-child jump out of a tree and sustain a concussion, is Adrift. And not just by default.
Director Baltasar Kormákur, who dazzled us back in 2015 with Everest, a similar true-life tale of a tragic life-and-death struggle, seems to have a gift for sucking in audiences and keeping them rapt for the better part of two hours. His proven ability to throw us right in the middle of the action and intimately connect us to the characters is crucial in movies like these. Damned if you don’t walk out of Everest feeling as though you’ve lost a friend or two while at the same time feeling a little frostbitten and short of breath. And as the closing credits for Adrift begin to scroll you may well feel the need to wring yourself out as you promise yourself that you will never, ever go sailing alone—at least not out so far out that you can’t see land anymore.
We’re first introduced to Tami Oldham (Woodley), as she comes to in the flooded hold of her sailboat. She’s bleeding, disoriented, and screaming for her missing fiance. After Kormákur has us stumble around alongside her for a few minutes, he begins to widen out, showing the destroyed boat and then the water. And more water. Until the boat is a small speck in a vast, unforgiving ocean.
The screenwriting team of brothers Aaron and Jordan Kandell (Moana) and David Branson Smith (Ingrid Goes West) take Oldham’s own memoir about the adventure and spin it into an intense and riveting tale of survival against all odds. And it works especially well since they take just the right amount of time to give us Oldham’s backstory, flashing back and forth between the past and the present. Adrift, in essence, becomes two movies expertly folded together; one timeline starts with the hurricane that spelled Oldham’s peril, and the other ends with it, and Kormákur flash-edits between the two beautifully, keeping us simultaneously on the edge of our seat and dizzyingly off-balance throughout.
Woodley, who seems to have put the disastrous Divergent series far in her rearview, proves herself worthy of the challenging and unforgiving role in what amounts to a one-woman show, and it reminds us of the talent we first saw in display in 2011’s The Descendants. Sam Claflin also shines as Tami’s fiance, despite the performance being mostly relegated to flashbacks.
Adrift isn’t an easy movie to stomach, and you may become leery about ever setting foot on a boat again, but it’s a bona fide tour de force from everyone involved. And that, friends, is a heck of a lot better than getting kicked in the groin.