Adrift brings us the most badass female protagonist of this summer movie season. She’s not a warrior. She doesn’t wear a super suit. She doesn’t have mutant powers.
She simply survives.
Her antagonist is not an alien, not an evil genius, nothing motivated by fear or greed or hate.
It’s the Pacific Ocean – and it simply is. Vast, deep, dangerously changeable and utterly uncaring, pulling Shailene Woodley’s Tami into a situation most of us would never survive.
Adrift is taken from the real Tami Oldham Ashcraft’s account of her 1983 ordeal, when a monstrous hurricane cut short the transpacific voyage she was making with her fiance Richard. It disabled their boat and left it adrift in the middle of a 1,500-square-mile search area.
Richard is played by Sam Claflin, and Ashcraft says he is as charming as the real Richard. The movie version is Tami’s lifebuoy in the wreckage the Hazana, unable to provide any physical assistance but instead offering advice and a sounding board when she needs it.
But make no mistake: This is Woodley’s movie. There’s no shying away from the extreme physicality of the role, which requires her to climb, swim, jump and be rolled around inside the Hazana’s cabin when the ship is tossed around by terrifyingly large waves. But there’s also heart in her love for Richard, determination in her efforts to get through each day, and no small amount of self-reliance. With Richard unable to help her, Tami has to rig a makeshift mast and sail. She sets up a pump to drain the cabin of storm water, not just once but twice. She’s the one who plots their course across the Pacific to Hawaii, a target that could be so easily missed with just one wrong calculation. And she’s the one who risks drowning – or becoming lunch for any nearby sharks – when she goes underwater to fix the boat or to spear some fish. She also stitches her own head injury and tends Richard’s broken leg.
All of this makes Adrift raw and real. The rawness would be painful if not for the flashbacks interspersed throughout. We see Richard literally sail into Tami’s life in Tahiti, and some of their time together there. It all leads up to their ill-fated cruise.
While flashbacks are sometimes overused, here they’re a necessary counterpoint to the starkness of the survival story. Some of the transitions between past and present are a little confusing, though. It would also have been nice to see a little more of the early stage of Richard and Tami’s relationship and how they went from strangers to lovers. But overall, director Baltasar Kormákur’s choice of flashbacks helps to relieve the intensity of everything that happens after the hurricane.
In a previous movie, Everest, Kormákur examined the fatal effects of bad choices made on that mountain during the disastrous 1996 climbing season. He notes that in the case of Adrift, there were no bad choices – unless one wishes to question the wisdom of sailing from Tahiti to San Diego in a 44-foot sailboat. But even in 1983, without GPS, the Hazana was better equipped than the ships used to reach the New World in the 15th and 16th centuries. Tami and Richard tried to outrun Hurricane Raymond, at the time one of the most severe storms ever in that region. But the storm was moving twice as fast as their yacht, and they were caught in a frightening maelstrom.
Ashcraft, by the way, says the storm is portrayed accurately in the film. The giant waves produced by the special effects team are not just Hollywood hyperbole.
After the Hazana is crippled, very little time is spent on regret about the trip. When Richard says he wishes he’d never met Tami because then “you wouldn’t be in this mess,” she dismisses the thought immediately. “I wouldn’t have us to remember,” she tells him. But otherwise, there is no talk of “if only.”
There is no blame, no recrimination; there is only survival.
It’s not a spoiler to say that the realism does not make for a feel-good summer movie. The business of survival makes for some uncomfortable viewing. It’s just barely tempered by the love story and admiration for Tami’s sheer will to keep going, no matter what nature throws at her.
In the end, we are left shaken and wondering whether we could measure up.
Adrift opens in theaters on June 1.