It’s a relatively simple structural decision for a screenplay, but it’s easier to see how much less effective this story would have been if told a different way. It begins in medias wreck, as 24-year-old Tami (Shailene Woodley) awakens on a foundering pleasure boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean; the narrative then alternates back and forth between Tami meeting and falling for Richard (Sam Claflin) in 1983 Tahiti, and survival attempts after a massive hurricane. The result is a story that—instead of becoming a foot-tapping wait for the inevitable tempest and its aftermath—focuses on the relationship between two wandering, lost souls who have found each other, possibly just in time for that connection to be taken away. Director Baltasar Kormákur (the also-true-life survival yarn Everest) does a solid job of conveying the stark reality of Tami and Richard’s situation, while also not making the experience merely a grueling procedural. Add a performance by Woodley that captures everything from determined grittiness to abject despair, and you’ve got a disaster story that does what too many disaster stories don’t: It gives you a reason to care about who lives or dies.
Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Producer: Baltasar Kormákur, Aaron Kandell, Jordan Kandell, Shailene Woodley, Ralph Winter, Magnús Sigurðsson, Andrea Scarso, Stephen Fuss, Tom Rosenberg, Gary Lucchesi, Eric Reid, Wang Zhongjun, Wang Zhonglei, Felice Bee, Robert Simonds, Adam Fogelson and David Kosse
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin, Jeffrey Thomas, Elizabeth Hawthorne, Grace Palmer, Tami Ashcraft, Marisiale Tunoka, Kael Damlamian, Neil Andrea, Apakuki Nalawa and Tim Solomon