Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur loves grappling with nature. On ‘Everest’, the self-confessed danger junkie climbed to 24,000ft to scout for locations, then took Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin most of the way up to shoot it. Now the former yacht racer takes on the ocean for his most white-knuckle ride yet.
It’s no surprise that ‘Adrift’, based on a true story and shot over a series of gruelling 14-hour days at sea, is so thoroughly in thrall to the elements – water, specifically. In 1983, Tami Oldham and her fiancé Richard Sharp set sail from Tahiti to San Diego, only to run smack into a category four hurricane which all but destroyed their yacht. Kormákur’s account begins in the struggle for survival that ensued, before flipping back with flashbacks of the burgeoning romance between Tami (Shailene Woodley) and Richard (Sam Claflin). For a while, it’s as flat as the water – these actors are warm and watchable, but it’s hardly one of cinema’s great love stories – although Kormákur’s shots of the great expanse of ocean do provide a breathtaking backdrop.
Things quickly pick up when it gets bumpy. As the storm hits, its rumbling booms at stomach-churning levels from the cinema speakers. To adopt the old cliché, the ocean isn’t just a character in this film – it’s the best one. Kormákur’s films pit humans against the elements, but his real interest often seems to lie with the latter. Hopefully he’ll get a script that serves both sides next time.