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Baltasar Kormakur's (Everest) based-in-reality Adrift is well acted but does not always land the dramatic punches it swings thanks to a stop-start, disjointed narrative that relies too heavily on flashbacks to fill in the blanks for character development. Based on the story of a sailing couple who are stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean during a hurricane, Adrift stars Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin as Tami Oldham and Richard Sharp, respectively. Both are excellent in these roles; playing characters adrift both at sea and in life without appearing listless or ungrateful. Kormakur effectively stages natural disaster and, to a lesser degree, melodrama, but the decision to jump around in time constantly undercuts the dramatic effect. This is largely the fault of the screenplay, with its three credited writers, and not a condemnation of the harrowing true-life story.
The film opens amid the surge and darkness of a mid-ocean hurricane. We see Sharp, wearing his bright yellow rain gear, getting swallowed by the sea, and soon awaken to Oldham being splashed back to life in the boat's cabin. She quickly goes topside, assesses the damage and realizes Sharp is nowhere in sight. Several weeks earlier, Oldham arrives in Tahiti to find odd jobs and continue discovering her purpose in life. She soon meets sailor Sharp, who docks a boat he constructed and tells her about how miserable and lonely spending time on the open water is. She is soon smitten, and the pair begins a relationship. One night, a wealthy couple offers Sharp and Oldham a significant payday to sail their luxury craft from Tahiti to San Diego, a crossing that takes approximately a month. The pair agrees, which delivers them to their hurricane-induced predicament.
Your enjoyment of Adrift will likely depend on how much you enjoy the romantic drama threaded throughout the high-seas action. This movie could easily have been more of a straightforward disaster-survival flick, but Kormakur and company chose to play up the romance. Fortunately, Woodley and Claflin have excellent chemistry, and I certainly believed these two had fallen head over heels for one another. Theirs is a whirlwind port-of-call romance, and flashbacks reveal only a couple of scenes where the couple enjoys calmer waters earlier in the journey. You learn little of Sharp's past, but brief character bits reveal Oldham has a mom and siblings she is close to and a father she is not. Neither has chosen this path because they are angry at the world, but both appear to be drifting. Although Sharp is the experienced sailor, it is Oldham who creates a makeshift sail and nurses Sharp's wounds after she pulls him from the waves. She then spends much of the next weeks scavenging in the remnants of the wrecked cabin for food and drink.
The impressive, if familiar, disaster story is more compelling than the romantic melodrama, but Adrift insists on flashing backward and forward too often when it could have left its focus on Oldham's survival efforts on the stricken vessel. Robert Richardson's cinematography is good, and, save a few dodgy effects shots, the film feels as if it was actually shot in the middle of the Pacific. The acting far exceeds the script, and Woodley is particularly impressive here. She is believable both as the girl next door and a determined survivalist, and her grief is palpable. Kormakur brings the film home in an economical 96 minutes, and, despite the narrative weaknesses, Adrift is consistently entertaining. Between the acting, disaster elements and production values, Kormakur's film is compelling enough to overcome most of its flaws.
The 2.39:1/1080p/AVC-encoded presentation is fantastic, and Universal seems to continue to produce some of the best looking discs on the format. The image is sharp, deep and filmic, with strong details and texture for objects and costumes. There are frequent high-contrast scenes during midday at sea, but the image never appears too hot and highlights do not bloom. Darker scenes are also impressive, with ample shadow detail visible amid the inky blacks. Colors are bold and nicely saturated, and the image remains crisp, clear and without motion blur during the rain-soaked action sequences.
The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix is similarly impressive and truly immersive. Waves, rain and ambient noise surround the viewer at all times, and the disaster sequences make excellent use of the subwoofer and surround speakers. Dialogue is crystal clear, whether delivered directionally or front and center, and the score is intermixed appropriately. Range and fidelity are also very impressive, and the elements are perfectly balanced during both intimate, quiet scenes and big disaster moments. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are included.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy and both iTunes and UltraViolet HD digital copies. The discs are packed in an Elite case that is wrapped in a slipcover. Extras include Deleted Scenes (2:33/HD); Survival at Sea (2:21/HD), a brief EPK; Braving the Elements (2:24/HD); Journey (2:02/HD), which is just a montage of scenes; Theatrical Trailers (5:06 total/HD); and an Audio Commentary by Director Kormakur and Woodley.
Although I wish Adrift had settled on a tone and toned down its stop-start narrative, the disaster elements here are compelling. Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin are strong in their roles as a couple stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean after a hurricane. Universal's Blu-ray offers excellent picture and sound and a few brief supplements for this based-in-reality film. Recommended.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.