Knocked unconscious. She awakes 27 hours later in the cabin of sinking yacht. Everything looks destroyed, floating debris surrounds her in a disoriented mess. Stranded, helpless and alone in the Pacific Ocean. This is the moment the 24-year-old avid sailor Tami Oldham found herself in—three weeks into a sailing trip with her fiancé Richard Sharp from Tahiti to San Diego. The array of questions and amount of fear that flooded her mind the minute she woke is unimaginable, but one question spoke louder than all the others: where is Richard?
Adrift is brought to us by Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur, and it’s loosely based on Tami Oldham’s 1983 sailing disaster—as recounted in her book, Red Sky in Mourning: A True Story of Love, Loss and Survival at Sea.
When we meet her, Tami (Shailene Woodley) has been away from her home and family in San Diego for six months. Currently working in Tahiti—at a dock fixing old sail boats—she meets Englishman Richard Sharp (Sam Clafin) and instantly falls for him.
Richard has a yacht that he built himself and has sailed to many exotic and fascinating places around the world. He and Tami bond immediately and are soon an inseparable couple. Despite their age difference of nine years, Richard believes Tami is the one (“I sailed half the world to find you”). So, he asks her to sail around the world with him. Tami, of course, says yes. She has all the time in world, she’s already somewhat adrift and has no plans of heading home yet.
The scenes of Tami and Richard together are pretty standard stuff expected from a romantic drama. Their relationship unfolds predictably: the two develop feelings, get to know each other on cute dates, and throughout the collage of scenes uplifting music rolled on cue. The audience takes it all in, cherishing the moments the two have together, as most people know the worst is yet to come. Everyone is waiting for the storm.
Their plans change slightly when they are hired to take a 13-metre yacht named the Hazana on a 6000-some kilometre journey from Tahiti to San Diego. The trip starts off like something from a dream. Cascading sunsets of vibrant orange and sizzling red, alone on the forever ending ocean with your lover doing what you love and, to top it all off, Richard proposes.
What’s not to love about this romantic drama? Everything is perfect; but what the pair encounter in the next few weeks, they couldn’t have seen coming.
Hurricane Raymond was the strongest tropical storm of the 1983 Pacific hurricane season and it headed straight for Tami and Richard. The photography and montage of this scene is intense and feels so real, you might as well be on the boat with them. Director of photography Robert Richardson’s water sequences are unreal pieces of filmmaking and capture the utter rawness of these memories. Battling 145 knot winds and waves as tall as three-story buildings is not a position anyone would want to find themselves in. There is no skyline in sight, and while the camera focuses on the couple, the entire background is filled with surging ocean as the yacht surfs up the mountainous waves. Luckily, the pair have some experience and handle it as best as they can. Richard tells Tami to take shelter in the cabin. Little does she know this is the last moment she will see him as the last thing she hears is him screaming “Oh my god!” before everything goes pitch black.
Adrift serves up Tami’s story quite accurately—from the plot events to the props themselves. In an interview with the real Tami Oldham Ashcraft, (despite all the trauma she has endured, she has remarried, had two kids and continues to sail), she says it was uncanny just how alike Sam Clafin resembled the real Richard. And it’s true, the handsomely rugged actor was a perfect fit for the role, having replaced Miles Teller later in the casting.
I loved seeing Woodley as the lead role for this film; she exemplified the bravery, determination and wildness required to do justice to the real-life Tami Oldham and her story. After the hurricane has passed and she gains consciousness, she looks everywhere for Richard. She soon sees him drifting some way from the boat on their dinghy, desperately grasping to stay afloat. Her next mission is to save him. Woodley plays this dominant female lead to a tee. With fractured ribs and a slow-rotting right leg, Richard is totally useless; so, Tami fixes the broken sail and hovers over maps and makes calculations using a sextant to plan her course to Hawaii—the next and only opportunity to reach land. Those that have heard of Tami’s story or read her book know that Richard was washed overboard into the unforgiving depths of the ocean. So, the audience must work out if the filmmakers have fictionalised this story or if the on-screen Tami is hallucinating.
This I will leave for you to find out, but what I can tell you is this: be prepared for a tragic plot twist that is sure to let your spirits down and make tears well in your eyes.
Drifting the treacherous waters, one day turns into two that eventually leads to five, before hitting the total 41 days of being adrift at sea.
While the story and its actors are successful and deserve congratulations, a definitive highlight was the cinematography and ocean scenes. Birds-eye-view shots of the sailing yacht surrounded by immense ocean creates a feeling that is chilling, but also calming. It demonstrates just how dangerous the force of mother nature can be—two mortal humans defenceless against the wrath of the ocean. Tami’s will to live and acts of survival somehow overcame the seditious grips of the Pacific. How she made it home is a miracle—one you will have to watch to believe.
Adrift arrives in cinemas June 28.