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2013 | 113 min | R | 2.39:1



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Theatrical release date

 02 August, 2013

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Drift Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, August 1, 2013

Perhaps “Drift” would be more appealing with the mute button engaged. Without dialogue in the way, the feature is left with its picturesque Australian locations and impressive surfing footage, creating a cool summer view of beach life in the 1970s, with its rolling waves and heavenly sunshine. Unfortunately, “Drift” is no travelogue, but a melodrama concerning the rise of modern surfing, and it employs a host of clichés to develop a tale of two brothers working to make their mark on the industry. Certainly atmospheric but depressingly predictable, “Drift” is more stimulating visually than dramatically, unable to provide a gritty look at careworn lives looking for a path to fulfillment. Instead, it’s a soap opera, but one infused with tremendous cinematographic presence.

After escaping the wrath of their abusive father, brothers Andy (Myles Pollard) and Jimmy (Xavier Samuel) have settled in Western Australia with mother Kat (Robyn Malcolm), ready to start a new life by the ocean. Taking to surfing as a method of therapy, the boys are pushed in two directions when Andy is injured, preventing him from achieving wave-based glory, while Jimmy shows a natural flair for the sport but refuses to develop his gifts. As young adults, financial pressures are promising ruin, urging the brothers to establish their own surf shop, selling boards and wetsuits to customers used to a certain way of surfing. The duo also meet photographer J.B. (Sam Worthington), who sets up camp in the town with family friend Lani (Lesley-Ann Brandt). Befriending Andy and Jimmy, J.B. also brings drug smuggling to the community, confusing the priorities of the siblings, who are in desperate need of money.

While “Drift” is a fictional endeavor, it’s reportedly based on real stories from the era, piecing together a portrait of change as surfing went from stability on long boards to heroism with shorter, more powerful water conquering tools, while the body-covering wetsuit was just beginning to find its purpose. The historical aspects of the feature aren’t special, but they’re handled with reverence by directors Ben Nott and Morgan O’Neill, who forge a sense of discovery as the brothers come to certain realizations that alter the course of their future, pulling Andy out of his soul-flattening factory job and giving Jimmy some much needed direction. Early scenes convincingly portray pressurized circumstances threatening the homestead, with mounting debt a primary motivator for the surf shop venture, lacking a proper bank loan to truly make the idea come to life. But for such a risky enterprise, financial backing doesn’t come easy.

“Drift” is at its best when concentrating on the ambition of the brothers and how they turn ideas for a new surf board shape into a chance to make a name for themselves in a challenging industry, while the community is generally suspicious of such inspiration -- the local cops quickly assume the shop is a front for drug trafficking. There are personality conflicts that feel genuinely observed and a frustration with naysayers that motivates the characters, but the development of retail dreams doesn’t last for very long. Once J.B. enters the story, the plot scatters to familiar places as the filmmakers summon a tone of dangerous behavior, with drugs and all their destructive possibilities taking center stage as the surf vibe floats away. Subplots with a local biker gang only reinforce the cartoon nature of the picture’s depiction of antagonism, while time with third wheel Gus (a family friend) and his spiral into heroin addiction is more of a strained distraction than a sobering wake-up call for the siblings. Everything about “Drift” is too formulaic and unnatural, from the burgeoning romance between Andy and Lani to J.B.’s persistent irresponsibility, eventually threatening the sanctity of the shop.

When it’s riding the waves or hanging out by the beach, “Drift” captures the feel of oceanic inspiration, making the surfing scenes the highlights of the movie. There’s an understanding and patience with naturalistic beauty that only reinforces just how plasticized the scripting is, trying to force conflicts and hokey resolutions (there’s a Big Game finale at a surf competition) on a feature that’s more comfortable embracing the call of the wild.

Starring: Sam Worthington, Lesley-Ann Brandt, Xavier Samuel, Robyn Malcolm, Myles Pollard
Directors: Ben Nott, Morgan O'Neill

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