Adrift Review – All isn’t lost

Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin in Adrift (2018)

Can we all be done now with Sam Claflin as a romantic lead? Like he doesn’t fit the part well, I get that he’s handsome but it really ain’t worth it. We’re wasting his talents in these roles that the man is so clearly unsuited to. It runs through every measure of his being, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen the man genuinely smile in a movie. He always lets this little smirk play across his lips like he’s oh so much smarter than you, like there’s something funny in his head that he ain’t sharing.

It basically capsized last year’s mostly charming World War II romance Their Finest. You spend that whole movie wanting to slap that smug idiot in his fucking face. You’re supposed to be sad when he dies at the end, I basically wanted to cheer. But then look at him in Lone Scherfig’s 2014 joint The Riot Club where she directs him to be a reprehensible Tory asshole and he’s great. Look at him in last year’s Roger Michell film My Cousin Rachel where his posturing and preening is used to underscore the fact that the dude is a total moronic letch.

I mean, the script here isn’t doing him any favours. I would advise any actor taking a role that involves giggling about the age difference between him and his younger girlfriend, but this guy, a rugged loner who built his own boat and takes it from port to port picking up chicks and being cool and monologuing about the call of the sea gives him free reign to sink into all of his worst impulses.

Yet, even after the boat gets caught in a storm and he breaks a leg, even with him spending half the running time laid out on deck under a tarp, he seems unable to let an ounce of humility creep in. His pain is stoic and masculine, he never whimpers or cries. His lack of vulnerability as a performer is acutely felt, and the movie sinks faster than the sailboat it depicts.

Kind of a shame, Shailene Woodley is good in it. She nails the switch between lovestruck twenty-something aimlessly working her way around the world and desperate mid ocean survivalist. A twist that the film insists on demonstrating for us with this baffling structure that keeps flashing between their life up until the storm and their life after they wake up aboard a sinking ship.

I honestly can’t find the reasoning behind it. I suppose the two situations juxtapose, but there is no effort being put into making that juxtaposition meaningful. There is never a moment of revelation, where the film’s artificiality is used to expand our conception of events. All it serves to do is frustrate, the sea stuff is so much more interesting than the stuff ashore. Spent a lot of time waiting through the half-hearted romance for the next morsel of interest.

Everyone seems to be having more fun at sea. It’s focus on action lend director Baltasar Kormákur and cinematographer Robert Richardson much more freedom in their approach to the scenes. And as shit continues to go wrong they lean into it, dousing the camera with water, letting the pitch of the craft lurch queasily underneath us, denying us respite from the starkness of these characters existence. Except, you know, for all the flashbacks.

The thing is, we’ve seen this before back in the 2013 J. C. Chandor/Robert Redford flick All Is Lost. And I can’t help but think that they did it better there. It was more committed, more measured and used physicality and framing to explore character in a way that outside of a few minutes of searching for her boyfriend overboard we never really get a chance to see here. Survival is tiring and tedious, and the conversations that people have on their way to dying of starvation aboard a unmoored vessel are equally so.

That’s the whole film really. It never quite commits to the survivalism, nor the romance enough to be fully satisfying. The cinematography is generally bland or incredibly noticeable. Whether the structure was a script or an editing choice it was a disastrous one. And then to top it off they cast two actors who just ain’t well suited for one another. It’s not an awful film, it’s just nothing.

Adrift is currently screening in UK cinemas.

Two Stars
Image courtesy of STX Films


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