A few years ago Robert Redford gave a great, near silent performance in All is Lost (2013) as a man left near dead in the middle of the ocean after a violent storm destroys his vessel. The New York Film Critics awarded their actor Best Actor for his superb physical performance in what was one of the great lost at sea films. Another is the foreign film Kon Tiki (2012) a brilliant feature film about Thor Heyerdahl and the famous the Ra Expeditions, brilliant in its recreation of the journey they made across the sea.

Adrift, a new film with Shailene Woodley, so good in The Descendants (2011) arrives this week and is a generic, decent film with strong performances and excellent visual effects. The awesome power of the sea is on full display within the picture and it is humbling.

Woolley first came under my radar as the oldest daughter in The Descendants (2012), for my money the best film of 2011. Raging at her dying mother for cheating on her father, she is confused by her emotions, though fiercely loyal to her father. Her confusion at how to feel is raw making her angry girl a fascinating character, one that could have easily been a caricature. She never allows that to happen, digging deep under the skin of the character. She and George Clooney had a lovely chemistry together, and I remain perplexed that Clooney lost the Oscar and Woolley was not nominated? Last year she earned rave reviews and an Emmy nomination in Big Little Lies (2017) furthering her reputation as a rising young star, going toe to toe with no less than Nicole Kidman.

In Adrift, she manages a strong performance, overcoming the fact that the sea is a character within the film, and effects are remarkable. There is something very honest in her acting, something that allows audiences in, something very non actorly.

Based on a true story, the film explores the events which transpire when Tami (Woodley) and her lover embark across the sea in a sailboat to California. Looking for an adventure she, they, get far more than they bargained for when a hurricane lashes thei vessel into floating garbage, her initially alone, but then the two of them adrify, struggling to stay alive. When she finds him, he is badly injured, leaving most of the work to her.

The fury of the sea is brilliantly created here, with towering waves that engulf the boat, the startling power of nature both awe ininspiring and terrifying.

Woodley is superb in the film, elevating both an ordinary screenplay and rather ordinary direction with her fierce, outstanding performance. Refusing to give in, which means death, she searches for any means to survive, any way necessary. She must catch fish to feed them, keep them sheltered, and it turns out keep them alive. Putting her heart and soul into what is also a fine physical performance, she displays precisely why she is among the finest young actresses working. Her beautiful liquid eyes draw us close to her, and it is nearly impossible not to care about her. By the end of this film, you will find it hard not to admire her.

But let’s be clear…she is the film. She elevates the film, the story, everything about it is better because of her.

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