THE STORY – Having fled war-torn Liberia, Jacqueline (Cynthia Erivo), the formerly wealthy daughter of a government loyalist, finds herself struggling to survive on a Greek island. She gives foot massages to tourists on the beach, steals food to survive, and squats in caves and abandoned buildings. In the evenings, Jacqueline is haunted by memories of her homeland and the violent uprising that forced her to escape. When she meets Callie (Alia Shawkat), a lonely American tour guide, Jacqueline takes a chance on friendship.
THE CAST – Cynthia Erivo, Alia Shawkat, Ibrahima Ba, Honor Swinton Byrne, Zainab Jah & Suzy Bemba
THE TEAM – Anthony Chen (Director), Susanne Farrell & Alexander Maksik (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 93 Minutes
For the first ten minutes of “Drift,” there is absolutely zero dialogue. Instead, we simply observe the main character Jacqueline make her way through a Greek town where she’s forced to live as an unhoused person. She looks for food, wanders the beach, and avoids the police. It would be challenging for most actors to make this kind of silent, steady sequence compelling, but Cynthia Erivo is not like most other actors. There’s a case to be made that she’s one of the most talented actors currently alive, and “Drift” is all the better for having her on its roster. Unfortunately, the movie surrounding her mesmerizing performance is far too nonspecific in examining the central figure’s mysterious past and troubled present. Rather than being intriguing, the winding way its story unfolds is merely frustrating and, ultimately, unsatisfying.
Jacqueline has fled her home country of Liberia to live a nomadic existence in Greece. As she merely tries to survive day by day, her life is given an invigorating jolt when she meets a friendly tour guide (Alia Shawkat) who seems determined to do whatever it takes to help her.
It cannot be understated how much hard work Erivo puts in to keep the film engrossing. One quality that unites most of her performances is her lack of apparent actorly ego. She consistently makes choices in her film and stage work that are surprisingly underplayed, often leading to an explosive climactic moment that’s even more affecting in comparison to what’s come before, and “Drift” is no different. In her pointedly quiet moments that make up most of the film, it’s easy to sense internal pain that she works hard to hide. This focused intent invites the audience to follow her on her journey, awaiting a revelation. And, when that moment comes, Erivo doesn’t disappoint. Her inevitable emotional outpouring does so much to elevate the material she’s been given, as the actual content of what she’s divulging is fairly half-baked. Thankfully, she has a worthwhile acting companion in Shawkat, who’s a ray of necessary sunshine who brightens up Jacqueline’s difficult life and, subsequently, the otherwise dour film.
Jacqueline’s upsetting past that led to her current existence is slowly doled out to the audience in brief flashbacks that show both her happy times with family and friends and glimpses of the violent incident that ruined her life. The film turns out to be disappointingly inconclusive about not just her trauma but all manner of things in her life. Questions are raised about her friendship with a schoolmate in London, how close she is to said family, and the details of her own family, which would explain why exactly events occurred in the way that they did. There’s a case to be made for films that intentionally obscure the truth for a specific purpose, but the unclear aspects that make up “Drift” only lead to dissatisfaction.
Fans of Erivo won’t be disappointed with the time they spend with “Drift.” Unfortunately, the film saddles her with a script that leaves her, well, adrift. It’s a testament to her abilities and innate talent that she crafts a watchable journey for her character.