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Adrift

by George Wolf

Opening with an extended take that efficiently moves us from confusion to desperation, director Baltasar Kormakur sets the gripping stakes of Adrift with scant dialog. His closing is equally effective, showcasing a touching humanity with nuance, and hardly a spoken word.

The journey in between is literally harrowing but cinematically uneven, a sometimes gritty testament to survival that is too often satisfied with the path more traveled.

Adapted from a memoir by Tami Oldham (Ashcraft), the film recounts her incredible ordeal surviving over month at sea in the aftermath of 1983’s Hurricane Raymond.

Oldham was traveling the world through odd jobs in exotic locales when she met fiancee Richard Sharp during a stay in Tahiti. Englishman Sharp, an experienced sailor, docked his own vessel and accepted a lucrative offer to sail a friend’s 44-foot yacht back to San Diego.

Oldham, a San Diego native with limited sailing knowledge, came aboard.

Shailene Woodley, also earning a producer credit on the film, stars as Oldham, instantly establishing an important and authentic chemistry with Sam Clafin as Sharp. The nautical metaphors (with Oldham drifting though life until Sharp becomes her anchor) may be hard to miss, but they go down easy through the talents of the lead actors.

A true life adventure such as this brings some inherent challenges to the big screen, and Kormakur meets them with understandably familiar narrative choices.

The time alone at sea is layered with flashbacks to how Tami and Richard’s bond was formed, both deepening our connection to them and breaking up the lonely stretches at sea through crowd-pleasing fun and romance.

As the situation grows more desperate, pleasing flirts with pandering, and Kormakur weakens the emotional impact with some unnecessary spoon-feeding.

When the couple sails into the teeth of the hurricane, it bites hard, giving Kormakur (Everest, 2 Guns, Contraband) the chance to flash his action flair via a breathtaking storm sequence.

The film’s tale is truly compelling, and it does deliver satisfying stretches while staying cautious of any narrative risks that might seem disrespectful.

Even at its most dangerous, Adrift feels ironically safe.

Playing God

The Oath

by Hope Madden

A fight for alpha ensues with a rugged Icelandic backdrop in director Baltasar Kormákur’s latest, The Oath.

Kormákur, a filmmaker known for action-heavy thrillers, also stars as Finnur, a surgeon with some family troubles.

Though his young wife and small daughter seem picture-perfect, Finnur’s 18-year-old daughter from a previous marriage, Anna (Hera Hilmar), is spiraling out of control. An entitled party girl, her drug flirtation blossoms into a full-blown habit, much thanks to her love interest and dealer, Óttar (Gísli Örn Garðarsson).

Finnur’s increasingly reckless behavior, all aimed at removing Óttar from Anna’s life, points as much to a need for control as it does misdirected protectiveness. The film’s title refers to the surgeon’s oath never to play god – which, of course, surgeons do daily. It’s an occupational habit, though, that Finnur is bringing into his time outside the office.

As director, Kormákur works to make both men equally detestable and tender. Óttar is vulgar and brutish, but regardless of the havoc he wreaks or the horror he threatens as Finnur tries harder and harder to separate the lovers, his affection for Anna feels authentic.

Likewise, Finnur’s behavior oscillates between imprudent protectiveness and troubling malevolence. Kormákur’s performance is the picture of restraint, his conflict primarily dealt with internally. It robs the film of some excitement but delivers tension and urgency.

Though both male leads impress, it’s really Hilmar who leaves a mark. Vulnerable, naïve and headstrong, her Anna’s a perfectly frustrating culmination of post-adolescent volatility.

The Oath lacks the slick production values and audience-friendly narrative found primarily in Kormákur’s English-language product (2 Guns, Everest, Contraband), favoring grittier fare and more subdued energy. These are choices that benefit the story, although Kormákur struggles to maintain a tone that suits the tale.

Finnur’s behavior at a highly critical point feels nefarious in a way that doesn’t fit Kormákur’s characterization, and his actions are so atrocious that the resolution feels unsatisfyingly easy. The Oath dips into horror territory, not necessarily a bad thing, but the film can’t make its shifting approach feel anything but jarring – as if an entirely different film landed around Act 3, then vanished for the final reel or so.

2 Cool

 

by George Wolf

 

Last year, director Baltasar Kormakur and star Mark Wahlberg managed to make the heist thriller Contraband a good bit better than it probably should have been.

This year they up the ante, utilizing a snappy script, one Mr. Denzel Washington and a solid ensemble cast to make 2 Guns one of the most entertaining films of the summer.

Granted, it may be forgotten by fall, but right now, as a weak film season winds down, this type of stylish fun is welcome. And it’s all rooted in the undeniable chemistry of the two leads.

Wahlberg is “Stig,” an undercover naval intelligence officer, and Denzel is Bobby, an undercover DEA agent. Though they’re working together to infiltrate a drug cartel, neither knows the other is one of the good guys.

A few double crosses later, and they’ve got a ruthless drug lord (Edward James Olmos), a sleazy CIA boss (Bill Paxton, gleefully over the top) and a crooked navy officer (James Marsden)  threatening to kill them both unless they can hand over a massive load of stolen cash.

Kormakur sets the hook with a taut, mysterious opening, then maintains a crisp pace full of flashbacks, callbacks, and impressively staged action. Based on a series of graphic novels, the script from Blake Masters is witty but not overly comedic, and elaborate but not convoluted, while also managing to land a few jabs on U.S.- Mexican relations.  Nicely done.

Wahlberg’s performances always seem to reflect the level of talent around him, and he is very effective here, relishing the chance to be the comic relief side of a badass duo. Washington seems equally engaged, letting you feel the wheels turning as Bobby coolly  figures out what’s what. Their fun is contagious, to the audience as well as their fellow actors.

An engaging mix of buddy cop caper, spy thriller and Wild West shoot em up, 2 Guns is just the kick in the pants this movie summer needs.

 

Verdict-3-5-Stars