“Adrift” is the true story of Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley) and her fiancee Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin), who were sailing in the Pacific Ocean and got caught in a Category 4 hurricane, swamping the boat and shearing off the masts.  Radio out.  This was in 1983, before a GPS device would be attached to their boat.  So there they were, out on the open water, having to navigate with a sextant and a watch, and rigging a piece of torn sail, hoping to make it to Hawaii. 

            It's an intense tale of survivorship and resiliency, but Director Baltasar Kormakur both immerses us in the situation and periodically lightens up on the intensity by continually interspersing flashback scenes from the couple's brief courtship.  So much of the movie is a romance, between this seafaring Englishman and a wandering American girl.  Tami left San Diego right after graduating from high school and didn't look back.  She and a high school friend become beach bums for a while, then she takes a job as a cook in a ship's galley, which eventually lands her in Tahiti, again working an odd job, but there she meets Richard, sailing on his own, just because he loves being out on the ocean so much, with its endless horizon. 

            Their connection is strong and immediate, and soon he's asking her to go sailing with him around the world, which sounds like too big a commitment to her, until he gets an offer to sail a friend's yacht back to San Diego, with the promise of being flown back to Tahiti first class.  It's just enough of an adventure to appeal to both of them, and they gladly embark on the long voyage, unaware that there would be no outrunning the severe storm which would capsize them.

            Once we're in survival mode, we have to be aware of the little things that take on tremendous importance---like collecting rainwater.  Spearfishing for food.  Luxuriating in a found jar of peanut butter (Skippy gets free advertising).  Finding a tube of lotion to apply to chapped skin.  There's so much stress and desperation that we soon wander into hallucination, and we all begin to wonder what's real and what's imagined.

            Shailene Woodley gets lots of screen time, and not all of it glamorous, but she's enough of a veteran actor to hold our interest, and her character is just quirky enough to be likeable, so we want to see her survive, against the odds.  It took 41 days adrift, and that's a lot of dehydration and sunburn and panic interspesed with the tedium of continual confinement.  “Adrift”is reverse-telescoped into a small focus point, but it's engaging and compelling and well-made enough to keep our interest afloat.


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association.