Drift was directed by Ben Nott and Morgan O’Neill (The Factory, More Dead Men), written by O’Neill and stars Myles Pollard (Danger Close, Home and Away), Xavier Samuel (Fury, Mr. Church), Lesley-Ann Brandt (Lucifer, Spartacus), Sam Worthington (Rogue, Wrath of the Titans), Aaron Glenane (2067, Ride Like a Girl), Robyn Malcolm (Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Hostiles) and Steve Bastoni (Pros and Ex-Cons, Matrix: Reloaded). It’s about the birth of the surf industry in Australia, seen through the eyes of two brothers breaking away from their past lives.
The Plot: Surfing movies aren’t at all common, and when they do appear there’s usually equal amounts of focus put onto competition or crime (i.e., Blue Crush and Point Break). Drift doesn’t neglect either one, but it does put more effort into the surfing itself and lets the sport drive the plot to some success.
After their mother, Kat (Malcolm), takes them and leaves behind their (presumably) abusive father, brothers Andy (Pollard) and Jimmy (Samuel) adapt to the less-than-favourable attitudes held by locals towards them by spending their time learning to surf. Times change over 12 years but the brothers don’t. Not much anyway. It’s once itinerant surfer/photographer J. B. (Worthington) and Lani (Brandt) show up to the coast that the brothers, along with longtime friend Gus (Glenane), J. B., and Lani, decide to take initiative and go independent and start going big with their selling of the surf.
Drift offers up some scrapes with criminality in its first third and ramps up its crime element by introducing drug dealer Miller (Bastoni), which could’ve been a nice way to tie in the risks of being independent if the whole purpose of the movie – the startup – didn’t already cover it. That’s the major issue here. While the main idea is interesting, O’Neill tries to spice up what’s already seasoned at the cost of retreading ground.
When Drift’s plot doesn’t, well, drift off its promise of (loose) surfing history it’s a breezy journey with the natural drama of climbing to the top, but the directors let it run ragged, stuff in some cliché moments and elements that just don’t belong.
The Characters: With a movie like this, there are bound to be archetypes in use, and Drift obliges to a degree but most of its participants are rounded off effectively enough.
Andy is the ideas man of the group despite his introduction giving off the showier attitude that his brother will end up taking. He’s a partier in the same way that Jimmy, J. B., Lani and Gus are but prefers to step back and take in the bigger picture if it means developing a plan that can keep their lifestyle steady. He tries to take good care of his mother, brother and dog; at times seeming more like a father than a brother, but he still has his cracks in the form of trusting everyone just a bit too much.
In contrast, Jimmy is more freewheeling and artistic in his approach to life, clearly inspired by J. B.’s nomadic adventures and “so be it” mentality to life’s challenges. He’s more eager to get back to chilling and really doesn’t immerse himself in details, preferring grunt work and plenty of play while still being a face of the business. The contrast of Andy and Jimmy is authentic in its portrayal of brotherly discourse and offers two distinct characters to follow. Both brothers have an interest in Lani, who’s tagging with J. B. and becomes a part of their lives but never feels integral to the proceedings but does feel snug in her role, as does Kat.
The secondary and tertiary characters are left by the wayside. Most criminally affected by that decision is J. B., who initially seems like a mentor but becomes more of a sidekick, capturing singular moments for the business and for the fun of it, but is never fleshed out beyond his laid-back personality and aptitude to roll with the punches. Gus would be fine, as would Miller if the movie didn’t treat them as main characters at convenient moments or just handed them some more screen time to earn audience affiliation. Thankfully, the main characters handle the weight just fine.
The Drama: Being inspired by many true stories pertaining to surfing’s uptick in popularity gives Drift a host of places to draw from to make its plot weighty where it needs to be and laid back where it wants to be. It doesn’t make all the right choices but it does make a lotta good ones.
Watching as the group develops a plan, a business, a whole new life really is an engaging thing to see. There are other movies that cover the process of starting a new business better but Drift tackles the inception phase to the early middle with ease; from the trouble with funding to the skepticism of the premise and all of the doubts and problems that come with such a journey such as starting small and trying to get bigger to questioning if bigger is better at all. With the movie being made so close to home that reverence for the sport and industry is clear and helps alleviate some of the tropes used to get the movie going.
Drift does insert some things that it doesn’t deliver on towards its second half, such as J. B. and Gus funnelling drugs coming back to bite the group in the form of the law’s watchful eye even though the movie never shows how the cops have a clue about it; and trying to use Gus as a gut punch despite his character being one of the least developed in the whole movie. Between all of this, there are familiar beats such as the obligatory fallout between the members, something of a love triangle, and brushes with violence.
There’s a lot of engaging interpersonal interactions within Drift as well as some musings on society’s stranglehold on following dreams and the subject at the center of it all is rare for movies to cover, it’s just a shame that there are some lifetime channel moments and efforts to wedge in script fat that drag the dramatic angle down farther than it should be.
The Technics: Firstly, Drift is an indisputably beautiful movie to watch thanks to its location shooting, dazzling cinematography by Geoffrey Hall (Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, Chopper) and some clever editing by Marcus D’Arcy (Babe, Rams). Secondly, the capturing of the ’70s is extremely well-done thanks to the hairstyling and the killer soundtrack. If nothing else, watch Drift for its imagery.
Its pacing does take a bit of a hit because of all these things though. Multiple opportunities come up for the movie to effectively state its message and finish its plot but it just doesn’t take them, leading to what probably should’ve been a 100-minute movie coming in at close to 115, and that’s just too much to ask for this story.
Drift is a good drama with very good lead characters, unanimously good acting, a good plot and a rare subject but the creators bit off more than necessary and more than they could chew with their genre aspirations and overlong runtime. Still, most of what’s on-screen is well executed and a treat to look at, even if at times you’ll look away for something less fluid in its progression.
Drift is available on DVD, Blu-ray and on Digital Platforms from Lionsgate.