Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur, Starring: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin. Action, adventure.  US 2018, 96mins, Cert 12.

Released on Digital Download October 22nd 2018 and on Blu-ray & DVD November 5th 2018 in the UK by STX international and Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.

 

Hope floats.

 

“We’re gonna die out here.” “We might...”

 

Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur (EVEREST, 2015) takes his inspiration from a real-life memoir and helms a narratively choppy sea-bound tale of survival.

 

Having met the love of her life Richard (Sam Clafin), fellow sailor and up till that point free-spirited Tami (Shailene Woodley) agree to temporarily give up their idyllic picture-postcard lifestyle in Tahiti and deliver a 44ft yacht all the way back to San Diego by sailing 4,000 miles across the Pacific. Unfortunately once at sea they soon sail straight into category 4 Hurricane Raymond. Knocked unconscious during the stormy melee, Tami regains consciousness only to find the boat sinking, the mast overboard, and no sign of Richard. After some desperate but seriously impressive improvisation, Tami regains control of the yacht, constructs a makeshift sail, and manages to recover Richard who somewhat miraculously is found clinging to both a raft and life. Hauling her partner on board, the extent of Richard’s injuries soon become apparent: cracked ribs and a shattered leg. Stranded in an area of the Ocean where no shipping lanes exist, no radar, and rapidly dwindling food and water supplies the odds on survival don’t look good for these star-crossed sailors...

 

Without sailing into spoiler territory, it’s obvious that this true-story’s existence must rely on at least one of the protagonist’s making it back ashore eventually. The challenge here for director Kormákur and his three writers therefore is to craft a narrative which encourages us to invest in Tami and Richard enough to care about their salty plight and to realistically portray 41 days stranded at sea realistically enough without being visually repetitive.

Choosing to open with the immediate aftermath of the deadly storm aboard the mashed up yacht is a bold opening stroke as Tami (the excellent Shailene Woodley) wakes to find a cabin filling with seawater. Unfortunately, the film will then proceed to cross-cut back and forth between her and (eventually Richard’s) predicament at sea with their embarrassingly clichéd-riddled travelogue romance back on dry land. Brit Richard (Sam Clafin) firstly tries to woo vegetarian Californian will-o'-the-wisp world-traveler Tami with freshly caught fish before instead eventually wearing her down with implausibly cheesy lines such as: “I sailed half the world to find you. I’m not just letting that go”. I do rate the writers for this absolute corker however: “Oh fuck, did I just ask you to marry me in the voice of my dead mother?” (And they say romance is dead).

 

This constant toing and froing undermines the visceral impact of the sea scenes aboard the scuppered yacht as Tami embarks on a bit of auto-surgery with needle and thread whilst tending as best she can to Richard’s festering open leg wound.

 

There’s a twist coming in the third act which only works if you know nothing about the real-life story (so consider yourself warned in case you’re tempted to do a little bit of advanced homework).

 

Shot almost entirely on the open ocean in Fiji and New Zealand for 4-5 weeks with 12-14 hours of filming per day certainly adds authenticity – albeit at the apparent cost of the cast and crew’s sea-sickness!  Shailene Woodley is terrific and carries not only her sailor beau Richard but the whole film. Her breath-gasping travails in the merciless waters are physically and visually convincing and the mental tortures of hopelessness and her determination to survive after finding her own ‘Wilson’ ala Tom Hanks in CASTAWAY are conveyed with an impressively committed, gritty and non-showboaty (no pun intended) realism.

 

I can’t swim, so this kind of scenario is an absolute nightmare for me. It’s a story which, if it were a horror film would take its starting premise as an excuse to throw CG sharks or aquatic tentacle monsters at the protagonists, but this is real-life and reality is scarier. I can’t say it totally rocked my boat with its tonal floundering, but thanks largely to Woodley’s anchored performance it just about keeps its head above waters and manages to steer a course without totally capsizing.

 

Extras: Director’s Commentary with director Baltasar Kormákur and Shailene Woodley, featurettes and deleted scenes.

 

Paul Worts

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