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'Adrift': Cast Away in an Inconvenient Genre

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires film critic
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If your idea of a good time is anguishing aghast on tenterhooks as a couple of shipwrecked young lovers try to survive against all odds in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, director Baltasar Kormákur's "Adrift," loosely based on a true story, is for you. I, for one, don't really get the thrill, and have yet to receive a satisfactory response from either horror film or disaster flick aficionados when I question their inclination. Neither genre is my cup of tea. Just wondering what the morning mail will bode is more than enough suspense for me. Thus, I surprised myself.
In service to my fellow moviegoers who enjoy the blood pressure rush that film-induced fright and fretting can cause, I put on my objectivity cap and took to the torturous travail experienced by Tami Oldham and Richard Sharp back in 1983. Deeming myself the test canary that miners lower into the prohibiting depths, I emerged from "Adrift" rather impressed by its ability to render me uncomfortable and anticipatory, as well as to make me worry, at least for the length of the movie, for the well-being and destiny of its likable enough protagonists.
I've now done my part, dived into the cold water, walked into the strange candy store in a neighborhood not my own. And I survived. Which has led me to claim my filmic badge of courage. Seeking out friends, acquaintances and just about anyone who might not be averse to
my presumption as a Marco Polo of movie reviewers, I exclaim the new length and breadth of my critiquing bailiwick. "Yes," I announce from my soapbox, "There is more than moderate jitters to be had from 'Adrift.' I give it a seven on the Nervous Meter."
Good acting, superb special effects and a directorial approach of back-and-forth plotting not only keeps the suspense taut, but adds its own level of jarring disquiet. Just don't read the book beforehand. In the requisite form of such films when they are effective, Shailene Woodley as
Tami and Sam Claflin as Richard truly make us care about them. What more unfair thing can befall two young folks than to be faced with extinction just after finding the love they've sought their whole, short lives? We are engaged ... wondering if the fates will save one, both or none.
This proves key to the overall effect. While there have been movies both fictional and fact-based more grandiose in their level of harrowment, "Adrift" scores well in the all-important, co-plot.
The love story not only works to enamor us of Tami and Richard, but emphasizes that their so-called normality, their innocence, far removed from a world suddenly torn asunder, was all the time hanging from a thin thread. That's the disturbing truth of it ... There but for the grace of G-d go I, and all that stuff. So add goosebumps to all the possible symptoms you might experience.
While filmed with apparently solid production standards, director Kormákur's decidedly un-Hollywood look, shaking, handheld camera, etc., achieves for disaster what "The Blair Witch Project" (1999) did for horror, but of course without the hokum. There is a realistic gauziness in the underwater scenes, as if filmed not by a pedigreed cinematographer, but by an anonymous chronicler, perhaps in Neptune's employ. 
Belying what is surely an estimable technical feat, the faux simplicity creates a near-documentary aura, further accentuating the tragedy.
Thus it bears noting that, while iterating and perhaps doth protesting too much that this cinema species isn't my meat, there is an undeniable pleasure in having one's prejudices upturned from time to time, essentially a vanity in itself as you take credit for being open-minded. In the gym the day after realizing this newfound equitability, I advertised my epiphany. Hey, I liked a film, uh, I mean appreciated a film, that goes against my usual grain. "Do you like survival movies?" I randomly queried cohorts, seeking occasion to parade my revelation and relate my war story.
That said, after a subsiding of self-congratulating ebullience I now can declare that I gave at the office. I've seen my angst-provoking, seat-edged heart-pounder for the foreseeable future. But while I now hopefully prance into a motion picture future of heady sci-fi, political intrigue, screwball romance and that rare, exquisite, dramatic masterpiece, know that I have been duly reminded of the horrible possibilities that can come of ill-preparation compounded by the ferocities of chance.
In short, see this movie if I've whet your appetite for the clawing desperation of disaster and survival films. But do yourself a favor. Wear your seat belt on the drive, and when walking from the parking lot to the theater, what's the harm in looking up occasionally, just to make sure there's not a meteor or a flowerpot that's gone "Adrift?"
"Adrift," rated PG-13, is an STX Entertainment release directed by Baltasar Kormákur and stars Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin. Running time: 96 minutes

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