Drift: Film Review

Drift Still 2013 H
A strikingly shot surf flick with a certain slacker charm, but the narrative is a total wipeout.

Sam Worthington dons a wetsuit for this surf drama set in his home state of Western Australia in the 1970s.

Set during the 1970s when board-riding was still something of an outlaw sport, the Australian surf drama Drift paddles aimlessly between plotlines, only finding its groove out beyond the break. The untamed West Australian coastline is easy on the eye, as is much of the cast, but it’s the surf cinematography that creates a splash, leaving the clunky land-based scenes in its wake. Avatar star Sam Worthington drops in for a minor role of questionable consequence, his presence guaranteeing the independent project a profile beyond its domestic release.

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Co-directed by Ben Nott and Morgan O’Neill, who also rewrote the screenplay drafted by producer Tim Duffy, Drift seeks to dramatize the birth of the global multimillion-dollar surf industry, with its attendant tension between commerce and spiritual authenticity, man. The Zen grooviness comes courtesy of Worthington’s nomadic hippie surf photographer JB, a Ken Kesey-like sage who trundles into the fictional Margaret River town in a psychedelic bus advising everyone in a low growl to “center their chi.”

JB is unimpressed by the ambitious Andy Kelly (Myles Pollard, also a producer), who has a grand plan to carve out a future for himself, his single mom Kat (Robyn Malcolm) and wayward younger brother Jimmy (Xavier Samuel) by monetizing the locals’ love of a wave. Seeking to get a toehold in an industry that spawned internationally successful real-life Aussie brands such as Rip Curl, Billabong and Quiksilver, the Kelly family open a surf shop named Drift.

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Better writing could have done something with the conflict between capitalism and the subculture, but the script merely throws up an obstacle course for the Kellys to navigate on their way to inevitable triumph. The tiny coastal town is home to an unusual number of villains and soon the family is grappling with a shyster entrepreneur, yokel cops, a stonewalling bank manager and a local biker (Steve Bastoni) who threatens to drag the fledgling business into a druggy underworld. They’re all clichés of course and each is dealt with perfunctorily, as is the siblings’ rivalry for the affections of JB’s beautiful Hawaiian companion, Lani (Lesley-Ann Brandt).  

The erratic motivations of these characters reflect the dithering narrative, which relies heavily on the distractions of a thumping Seventies rock soundtrack and some impressive big wave action expertly captured by specialist surf cinematographers Rick Rifici and Rick Jakovich.

Opens: Australia, May 2

Production company: World Wide Mind Films
Cast: Myles Pollard, Xavier Samuel, Sam Worthington, Lesley-Ann Brandt, Robyn Malcolm
Directors: Morgan O’Neill and Ben Nott
Screenwriter: Morgan O’Neill
Producers: Tim Duffy, Michele Bennett, Myles Pollard
Executive producers: Joan Peters, Peter Lawson
Director of photography: Geoffrey Hall
Surf cinematographers: Rick Rifici, Rick Jakovich
Production designer: Clayton Jauncey
Costume designer: Mariot Kerr
Editor: Marcus D’Arcy
Sales: Entertainment One

No rating, 113 minutes