Combustible Celluloid Review - Drift (2024), Susanne Farrell, Alexander Maksik, based on a novel by Alexander Maksik, Anthony Chen, Cynthia Erivo, Alia Shawkat, Ibrahima Ba, Honor Swinton Byrne, Zainab Jah, Suzy Bemba, Vincent Vermignon
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With: Cynthia Erivo, Alia Shawkat, Ibrahima Ba, Honor Swinton Byrne, Zainab Jah, Suzy Bemba, Vincent Vermignon
Written by: Susanne Farrell, Alexander Maksik, based on a novel by Alexander Maksik
Directed by: Anthony Chen
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 93
Date: 02/09/2024
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Drift (2024)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Live Like a Refugee

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Anthony Chen's Drift seems more along the lines of an outline than a fully-fleshed out drama, but in some ways its small, soft strokes — along with two nuanced, arresting performances — work their own kind of magic.

Jacqueline (Cynthia Erivo) is a refugee from Liberia who has found herself without money or a place to stay on a Greek island. She survives by sleeping in a cave near the water, swiping sugar packets from a restaurant, and massaging tourists' feet (with stolen olive oil) for money.

One day she encounters a tour group, led by Callie (Alia Shawkat). Callie begins chatting with Jacqueline, and, after seeing each other again, they start to become friends. Jacqueline even invites Callie out to dinner using a wad of stolen cash found in an encampment. In flashbacks, we learn Jacqueline's brutal, true story, and when Callie shows Jacqueline a moment of kindness, it all comes tumbling out.

Drift never shows us how Jacqueline arrived on the island, or what the American Callie is doing there. And the women's friendship happens rather quickly, without the conversations we might expect. But maybe that's OK. Maybe we don't really need to know all that big stuff, exposition mostly, and maybe it's OK that the women are just lonely and recognize something of themselves in each other.

Director Chen — working from a novel by Alexander Maksik, who co-wrote the screenplay — shows us plenty of details of everyday life in Greece in a scant 93 minutes. We get an idea of the passing time, of the air and weather, and the rare, fleeting moments of joy.

Rising above it all is Erivo, who is without a doubt one of the great performers of her time, finding endless depths of expression through her eyes and in her delicate, fragile voice, while rarely making an extraneous move. Shawkat also shines alongside her, each generously sharing the space with the other.

Drift is a small, slow movie, the equivalent of a deep breath, and it may leave some viewers wondering what more there is, but for others, it'll be enough.

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