Tami Oldham wakes up half submerged. Her boat is water logged, the mast has snapped, and her sailing partner and fiancé is nowhere to be seen. Baltasar Kormakur’s feature is a true story of courage and perseverance despite unbelievable bad luck and hardship. The plot follows young couple Tami and Richard, embarking on a trip from Tahiti to San Diego when their boat is caught up in Hurricane Raymond – a category 4 hurricane that swept across the Pacific in 1983. Stranded and apparently alone, Tami must pull herself and the boat together in order to make it to land.

Tami’s story, regardless of the truth behind it, is unfortunate in that it follows a host of stranded-survival screen adaptations. The character’s resourcefulness in the face of adversity doesn’t better the formula proposed by Cast Away, and the almighty Ocean as an antagonistic force was better used in JC Chandor’s All is Lost. The script doesn’t boast any life affirming fantastical splendour a la Life of Pi, or even a shark trying to eat the protagonist like 2016’s The Shallows. But for Kormakur, Tami’s story is worth telling, largely because of the romantic element.

Richard and Tami’s on screen relationship could rival Romeo and Juliet in its passion and care. As the film oscillates between scenes on the boat and of the two falling in love, there is a sense that the soulmates are a little too cinematically perfect for one another. The dialogue feels too romantically stylised – there are moments when Tami calls Richard out on the ridiculousness of the words jumping from his eager lips. Whether or not this detracts from the reality of their relationship, their obvious love for one another goes a long way in heightening empathy as the plot develops. It is hard not to invest when Tami finds Richard clinging to an upturned lifeboat, as her panic bypasses relief in turning to sheer determination that they will survive together. A brilliantly cast Shailene Woodley gives an emotionally mature performance, and Sam Claflin offers welcome support. Thankfully, their chemistry is utterly believable, carrying an otherwise sentimentalised romance.

The couple’s struggle is quite superbly brought to life, aided to no end by impressive technical design. The sound mixing, though abrasive, is ultimately chilling, perhaps the biggest factor in indicating the danger the characters face. Though not exploited to its full potential, Kormakur rightfully takes the time to marvel at the sheer power of nature – the camera feels the force of each wave hitting the boat, letting the sea control our perception. Robert Richardson's cinematography elevates the film with breathtakingly intense unbroken shots, and playful uses of vibrant colours.

You’d be forgiven to sigh at the end of the film’s first sequence: the predictable zoom out to capture the vastness of the empty landscape surrounding our protagonist. But Kormakur is winking at the convention. And though he relies a little too much on the weight of a third act blow, the director is confident in his work, helpfully reminding us what we have witnessed is a true story. With Richardson’s immeasurable help, Kormakur delivers a film that acknowledges the limitations and clichés of the situation, but strives to impress even the most weary viewers. And if the genre wasn’t quite so prohibited by those limitations, Adrift might have been remarkable.

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