Set in a remote town on Australia's spectacular and rugged coastline in the early '70s, 'Drift' tells the story of two brothers at the genesis of the modern surf industry.
Determined to escape a life of factory work and petty crime, headstrong older brother Andy (Myles Pollard) and his wayward surf prodigy younger brother Jimmy (Xavier Samuel) form a volatile alliance. With their seamstress mother Kat (Robyn Malcolm) they fashion custom-made Drift wetsuits and new shorter surfboards out of their back yard garage. Their fledgling business generates a powerful buzz amongst the hard-core local surfers, but the brothers' progressive ideas are soon at odds with their conservative town and find themselves embroiled in a violent feud with a drug-dealing biker gang looking to manipulate Drift's early success. Enter JB, an infamous surf filmmaker (Sam Worthington) and Lani (Lesley-Ann Brandt), his gorgeous Hawaiian companion who drift into town just as the brothers' business and troubles begin to escalate. The travellers embody the era's anti-establishment vibe and are skeptical, but soon realize if the brothers can survive and stay true to their surfing roots, they might be part of something greater than they ever imagined.
Based on true stories from the era, 'Drift' is the action filled story of a complex family of outsiders who struggle to escape their troubled past to forge a successful future…stumbling upon the worldwide multi-billion dollar cultural movement we know today.
If there's one thing viewers can pretty much always expect from a surfing flick, it's cool footage of dudes riding big waves. On the other hand, legitimately engaging drama isn't always as guaranteed. To its credit, 'Drift' actually attempts to satiate both these needs, and while it does a fairly decent job, the film wobbles a bit in its third act. There's some admirable heart in the production, but the narrative ends up playing it safe by chasing smaller, all too familiar waves. It rides them well enough, mind you, but one can't help but wish that the filmmakers took some greater risks with a few rogue swells here and there.
Very loosely inspired by real events, the movie is set against the backdrop of Australia's burgeoning surfing industry during the 1970s. The story focuses on two brothers, Andy and Jimmy (Myles Pollard & Xavier Samuel), as they attempt to start up their own surfing company, making custom boards and gear. Faced with financial obstacles, legal troubles, romantic triangles, and a gang of antagonistic bikers, the siblings struggle to keep their dream alive and reach their goals -- ultimately placing the future of their business in the hands of a surfing competition.
The film's success mostly hinges on the central relationship between the two brothers, and thankfully this bond is established very well. An extended flashback sequence opens the film, hinting at the boys' troubled youth with their abusive father and their steadfast loyalty to one another, demonstrating how they are always ready to come to each other's defense or rescue. This strong connection is then maintained when we switch gears to the movie's main setting in the 1970s, catching up again with the pair as young adults.
Myles Pollard and Xavier Samuel both do a great job in their roles, turning in natural, charismatic performances that play up the brothers' central differences and similarities. Andy is more responsible and mature, while Jimmy is carefree and rebellious, leading to a few heated conflicts and rivalries. Sam Worthington also shows up as a hippie surf photographer, and the Australian raised actor actually gets to use his natural accent, sparing us the amusement of his usual failed attempts to hide it.
Though performances as a whole are strong, and the overall characterizations are solid, the script does sadly falter a bit as the runtime goes on, relying on clichéd beats and predictable, derivative drama. The brothers' initial transition into ambitious business men is a little abrupt and underdeveloped, and their resulting struggles with their startup company are all typical fare. For instance, one of their main roadblocks involves an uptight banker who just doesn't understand their "silly" surfing vision and won't give them a loan. Additional relationship conflicts, a drug related tragedy, and dangerous bikers all help to round out the drama, but none of it feels very fresh.
Likewise, the film's strongest aspect, the relationship between its sibling protagonists, is sadly marginalized from time to time, and Jimmy is oddly sidelined during long stretches. The third act proves to be the most problematic, and the narrative essentially devolves into the same standard "need to win money to save the house" plotline that's been done to death countless times before. Don't get me wrong, the experience remains enjoyable and relatively engaging, and we do get some cool surfing shots, but with few exceptions, everything basically gets tied up with a nice little bow, robbing the story of any real impact.
'Drift' is an enjoyable but flawed surfing flick that stays afloat thanks to strong performances, respectable filmmaking craft, and likeable heart. The plot is by-the-numbers, but the characters can be compelling and the directors do a good job with the surfing footage, offering a fun sense of energy and movement. Though the script could have used a few detours off the beaten path, the flick manages to glide across the surface with adequate skill, even if it does avoid big waves for much safer and less interesting waters.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Lionsgate presents 'Drift' in a Blu-ray/UltraViolet Combo Pack. A BD-25 disc comes housed in a keepcase along with instruction for a downloadable digital copy. After some skippable trailers, the screen transitions to a standard menu. The release is region A coded.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The image carries a fitting style with solid detail, but there are some minor technical issues here and there.
Shot digitally on the Arri Alexa and Red Epic, the source is fairly clean, but banding, false contouring, and minor signs of compression are visible from time to time, particularly in darker scenes. While clarity is pleasing (one can make out individual drops of water), the picture is on the softer side. With that said, dimension remains strong. The movie opens with an extended series of black and white sequences before making the transition to color, and the initial splash of vibrancy is very effective. The palette adheres to a faintly pastel look, with lighter hues, but the style works well with 70s setting. White levels are appropriately bright and for the most part contrast is nicely balanced. Black levels are a little faded in nighttime scenes, however, offering slightly murky shadow detail.
'Drift' looks pretty good on Blu-ray, and the various surfing sequences are impressive. There are some occasional hiccups with the transfer, but overall the film's intended style is nicely preserved.
The film is presented with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track along with optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles. Effectively conveying the alternately serene and assaulting presence of the ocean, this is a well produced mix.
Dialogue is mostly clean, though some scenes have a comparatively thin and strained quality. The soundstage offers a pleasing sense of ambiance for the movie's various locations. From a factory to a rowdy party, effects work is nicely implemented with good directionality and surround use for added atmosphere. The movie's soundtrack of 70s rock music also come through well, with nice separation and fidelity. Surfing sequences prove to be the most memorable, however, and the scenes set on the water feature great design work, sending crashing waves transitioning around the room. With that said, bass activity isn't quite as commanding as one might expect.
Nicely balanced and effectively immersive, this is a well rounded mix that does a nice job of enhancing the visuals. The track doesn't quite pack the punch some might be looking for, but the surfing scenes are still quite enveloping.
'Drift' is a decent Australian surfing flick that has good performances and admirable direction, but it can't quite overcome some clichéd and all too familiar scripting choices. Though the video transfer is very solid, there are some minor technical hiccups. Thankfully, the audio proves to be well balanced and immersive. We only get one relatively brief featurette, but it's actually pretty informative. Predictable yet enjoyable, this disc is worth a rental.