Runtime 104 minutes
This starts out with the statement, “a true story.” It does not say, “based on a true story,” just the flat statement, “a true story.”
It is based on a book by Tammy Oldham Ashcraft (co-authored with Susea McGearhart), Red Sky in Mourning: a True Story of Love, Loss and Survival at Sea, about the harrowing ordeal she endured in 1983 when she and her lover, Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin, who is a dead ringer for the real Richard), set out on a 4,000 mile journey in a 44-foot sailboat from Tahiti to San Diego. Little did they know that they were eventually going to be sailing right into a horrible hurricane.
Very effectively directed by Baltasar Kormákur, from a script by Aaron and Jordan Kandell and David Branson Smith, who was brought in to polish up what the Kandell’s had written, the film starts with Tami Oldham (Shailene Woodley, in a terrific performance) coming back to consciousness after their ship has been hit hard by the hurricane. It proceeds forward and back from there with flashbacks, showing how Tammy and Richard met, fell in love and started out on the journey.
After the hurricane batters and seriously damages the ship, destroying their communication equipment, the film shows Tami and an injured Richard striving to survive, stranded alone in the middle of the ocean. Since Richard is incapacitated, all of the work is up to Tami. The pace of the film is well done, filled with tension.
The movie was filmed in Fiji and at sea and the effects are wonderfully realistic, some of them filmed on a set in New Zealand. Regardless, cast and crew were wet during much of the filming. To achieve the realistic look of the film, the various iterations of the ship were put on a high tech gimble against green screen. The cinematography (Robert Richardson) is award-quality.
Of course the locations are gorgeous viewing. Finally we have a new film that isn’t dominated by dark cinematography.
I haven’t read the book, but there is a twist at the end of the film that calls into question the true story statement. If the twist is true, it is an even more remarkable tale. However, apparently what happens at the end of the film is not as clear to some as it was to me, because my assistant missed it entirely, and still didn’t believe it the next day.
Whether or not the twist is true, what she accomplished is, in my opinion, even more astounding than Captain William Bligh’s feat in taking a longboat over 2,000 miles to the nearest land after being thrown off The Bounty by Fletcher Christian. Bligh and his companions were experienced seamen; Oldham, although she had sailed, was apparently pretty much of a novice. What she accomplished is truly Herculean.