35 years ago Tami Oldham was sailing across the Pacific Ocean, the flat horizon surrounding her in every direction. It was a 4,000-mile journey from Tahiti to San Diego she planned to make with her British fiancé Richard, although what had seemed like a straightforward trip turned into a disaster after only a few weeks.
Director Baltasar Kormákur’s latest film, Adrift, looks back on the epic ordeal Tami had to face once a Category 4 storm (the second strongest possible hurricane) struck their boat. Shailene Woodley takes on the role of Tami, while Sam Claflin plays Richard, the story centred solely on their meeting, journey and attempt to survive out in the middle of the ocean.
We first meet Tami as she is regaining consciousness on board the shattered boat, water slowly seeping in and Richard nowhere in sight. This visceral introduction is then left behind as we flashback to Tami’s arrival in Tahiti 5 months earlier. She’s a little adrift in her own life, moving from one country to the next with no fixed plan, picking up jobs as she goes to fund the next leg of her journey.
It’s here she meets Richard, a fellow sea-lover who arrives in port on his self-built 36-foot sailboat. The two quickly find a connection and their free-spirited nature sends them off to sail across the sea as they gradually fall in love. Back and forth we go as Kormákur cuts between their current predicament in the Pacific and their blossoming romance, before joining the two perspectives together with a final twist in the tale.
Many of Kormákur’s films to date have featured Mother Nature in a lead supporting role (Jake Gyllenhaal was put to the test in 2015’s Everest) and Adrift is no different. Rather than take the safe option and shoot in a studio before adding CGI, most of the footage is shot on location off the coast of Fiji, placing the audience right into the middle of Tami and Richard’s situation.
The end result feels like you have been cast adrift into the sea without a paddle, disorientated and overwhelmed by the depth and power of the elements surrounding everywhere you look. There is no escaping how arduous this experience must have been as they attempted to float thousands of miles running low on food, water, sleep and their sanity.
What doesn’t work as well is the romance between the pair which is never given enough time to gain momentum due to Kormákur’s decision to keep moving across timelines. Woodley does most of the heavy lifting both physically and emotionally, once again proving the range of talent she has already developed at this stage of her career.
For every Revenant-style story, films heralding the bravery of women in seemingly impossible circumstances are few and far between which is what makes Adrift noticeably different. Tami’s real-life nightmare is given the treatment it deserves in an inspiring story that realises the depth of human resilience most of us don’t even know we all possess.
Adrift is released nationwide in UK cinemas on Friday 29th June