The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan



The advertising for Adrift makes it look like a teen-friendly version of the Robert Redford drama All Is Lost. Fortunately, it's much more than that. The movie, based on a true story, shares a basic premise of getting stranded way out at sea in a broken boat, yet separates itself by being as much a love story as a survival drama. That ensures the story is both emotional and intense.

Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin play Tami Oldham and Richard Sharp. Following a chance encounter, the two sailing enthusiasts fall in love and eventually get engaged. When the offer arises to sail a wealthy couple's yacht from Tahiti to San Diego, they jump at the chance, figuring that it will allow them to indulge in their love of the sea while simultaneously spending meaningful one-on-one time with each other. The trip starts out perfectly until they get caught in Hurricane Raymond. Their boat is severely damaged in the storm, and Richard is critically injured. It's up to Tami to figure out what to do in a situation where there's zero hope of rescue.

Movies like this have an inherent way of working on your psyche. I call them “ordeal movies” because they force you to mentally put yourself into the characters' position and try to imagine what you would do. There's a chilling bit of dialogue in which Tami observes that they're so far out to sea that there are no airplanes overhead and no freighters coming through, so no one is likely to find them. “We're going to die out here,” she says. The film makes you feel the isolation of being a tiny blip in a massive ocean, cut off from the rest of the world. At times, it's harrowing to watch Tami and Richard struggle to survive the harsh sun, the scarcity of food, and the psychological toll of realizing a slow death is almost guaranteed.

Director Baltasar Kormakur (Everest, Contraband) and cinematographer Robert Richardson stage some breathtaking shots, especially during the hurricane sequence. In one, the boat flips during a massive wave, causing Tami – who's in the cabin – to drop from one end to the other as it momentarily becomes vertical. Other shots, involving Tami getting in the water, have the camera bobbing above and below the surface, making you feel as though you're right there beside her. The effect is stunning.

Woodley and Claflin are very good in the lead roles, making the passionate love their characters feel for each other palpable. Adrift makes the point several times that neither of them would alter the course of their lives. Finding their soul mate is worth whatever the cost may be. An idea like that can border on being too sentimental, but the way the lead actors bring the relationship to life gives it authenticity. Woodley also very believably conveys Tami's determination to stay alive.

Adrift does one fairly significant thing that prevents it from achieving the maximum amount of power. The story opens mid-way through, right after the hurricane. From there, it intercuts scenes showing what happens next with flashbacks detailing how the relationship between Tami and Richard develops. To be completely fair, there's a specific reason why the story is structured this way, which only becomes apparent in the last ten minutes. That said, by not telling the story in a linear fashion, you don't get the start-to-finish momentum of them going through the terrifying incident. Moreover, the approach robs the story of what might have been its biggest OMG! moment – the one thing that would have driven home the unfathomable nightmare that this catastrophe is for Tami.

Even under that circumstance, Adrift's combination of nerve-wracking drama and tender love story is enough to render it consistently compelling. Putting pictures of the real-life people at the end of films based on true stories has become an annoying cliché. The gimmick works here, telling you something about the actual Tami Oldham that will probably startle you, and possibly inspire you, after witnessing a depiction of something no human being should have to endure.

( out of four)

Adrift is rated PG-13 for injury images, peril, language, brief drug use, partial nudity and thematic elements. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.

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