Behind Adrift is the true story of two sailors that are charged with the delivery of a yacht, from Tahiti to San Diego. They end up in trouble when they are struck by Hurricane Raymond, and the struggle for survival is the main thrust of the story. In the film adaptation, we get to see the initial meeting of the two leads, Sam Clafin and Shaileen Woodley, and we follow them in flashback through their courtship and eventual plan to wed. The mish mash of love story and battle for survival is unfortunately, where the production trips itself up, in what could have been a tense and harrowing film…
We open with the aftermath of the storm, and things look bleak. Tami is alone on the storm wrecked yacht, desperately looking for partner Richard. It’s a great opener and is gripping as expected. Then flashback to 5 months earlier and we see Tami as the globe trotting free spirit destined to meet with Richard. The film continues this approach, skipping back and forth from the terror of being cast adrift in the open seas, to various stages of the couples relationship. This is where the problem lies. This approach can sometimes be effective, but in a story that is essentially a struggle to survive, the tension is broken by the constant back and forth of the screenplay.
At the start of the first reel, we are aware the couple were together before the tragedy strikes, so to constantly jump back to how they met is redundant and distracting. The film has been marketed as a true life adventure, yet we get an almost 50 – 50 split between the advertised feature and a somewhat plodding rom-com. The two leads do well in the nicely shot ocean based set pieces, but there is a distinct lack of chemistry that is apparent when they have dialogue together. A lot of their screen time off the boat is twee and saccharine, and though we need to know that they care about each other, there was many different ways they could have got that across to us without the lame dating and dining scenes.
On the plus side, the scenes when disaster strikes are gripping, but when the actions switches back the way, it just all comes to a halt so as an audience member, we never get any real build up or on screen pay off. I feel that the narrative choice to tell the story this way was a mistake. If we had followed the action in chronological order, there would have been a chance to build the tension leading up to the tragedy that lay ahead. Sure the first reel would have been slow, but we would have felt the jeopardy so much more, knowing what lay ahead for the couple, and wondering how they would survive.
There’s also a reveal in the last reel, that would have had more impact with a linear style of story telling, however it was telegraphed quite early on and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who knew what was coming. Adrift, the film, is a bit of a disappointment, which is a dreadful shame as the story itself is one of extraordinary courage and bravery. Perhaps a documentary on the subject would have been a better idea, as this screenplay simply doesn’t do it justice. If you already know the story, perhaps see the film, but if you are interested in events themselves, you might be better off picking up the book and giving that a read.