Drift, a good-looking Australian surf drama directed by Morgan O’ Neil (who also wrote the screenplay) and Ben Nott, tells the story of Andy (Myles Pollard) and Jimmy (Xavier Samuel) Kelly, who escaped from Sydney with their mother (Robyn Malcolm) in their teens, to a surfing hotspot in the Margaret River region in Western Australia. Over a decade later, Jimmy has become a gifted talent with the potential to take on the worlds best. With their mother still in debt from the mortgage, Andy decides to start an ambitious entrepreneurial venture, which unites the skills of the family, as well as some local friends including JB (Sam Worthington), a Combi-dwelling surf photographer and his companion from Hawaii, Lani (Lesley-Ann Brandt) and personally crafted surf gear straight out of their backyard.
Drift focuses on a small pocket of this development, but surf gear is everywhere in Australia and the carefree beach-dwelling lifestyle will be relatable to anyone who has ever lived near or visited a coastal tourist spot. Commendably, it is a film about the drive required to embrace your passion, the selfless decisions we make for one another and the importance of maintaining a strong sibling relationship and surrounding yourself with friends you can trust.
It is a shame the script is dragged under by some forced drama and antagonism despite the compelling central relationship between the brothers. There are some convenient and far-fetched developments in the final act, in which the future of the family business predictably rests in a competitive event. The spectacular surfing captures possess plenty of tension, but the film’s dark turn into crime and drug abuse is less effective.
The small-town surf culture clichés open up a number of opportunities for the brothers’ plans to be foiled, including several run-ins with a local bikie gang leader and drug dealer whose rivalry with Andy has next-to-no motivation. These one-dimensional thugs turn up at every opportune moment, and when you throw in a sour-faced bank manager who continually refuses to grant Andy a loan to start his business and an obsessive police chief, it gets a bit much. Some of the supporting performances are very ordinary, too.
The core cast is strong, however, with the charismatic Pollard especially impressive. He builds an endearing everyman who in the wake of a serious injury in his youth saw a potential career cut short. He had to settle into a stable but unrewarding job to take care of his family. Headstrong and ambitious, he embraces his ‘go-for-it’ attitude and decides to take a chance and try and steer his family out of debt. He knows it will take a lot of hard work – knowledge not shared by his irresponsible younger brother - and he cultivates his family’s unique skills, his own business interests, as well as JB’s insight into creative publicity, into an expansive business with potential.
Drift is a solid, if safe, surfing drama. It is a shame that the spectacularly shot big wave tension, the inspiring journey of bringing global surf culture awareness to a small Western coastal pocket, and the attention to the characters is let down by the forced drama and contrived uniting of strands that unfortunately undermine a lot of the strong work.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22
Andy Buckle is a passionate Sydney-based film enthusiast and reviewer who has built a respected online voice at his personal blog, The Film Emporium. Andy will contribute reviews, features and be our resident film festival, and awards expert.