While breaking down his most iconic characters for GQ, Giancarlo Esposito explained that Breaking Bad’s magic came down to the nature of the show. At its core, the beloved series is about the hidden lives of those around us, he explains in the video. You’re next door neighbor, the doting dad who works at the local high school, could be one of the biggest drug lords in the country.
That’s what makes Drift so special. No, it doesn’t follow the world of drug manufacturing and distribution in the American southwest. It does, however, tell the story of someone you’ve seen time and time again, but never knew what their life was really like.
The film follows Jacqueline (Cynthia Erivo), a young African woman who escapes her home and attempts to start anew on a Greek island. It may seem like your run-of-the-mill, ‘Black refugee struggles building a life in Europe tale,’ but the film is much more than that. Director Anthony Chen is able to find new and engaging ways to tell Jacqueline’s story, finding the heart and universality in it.
Chen and his team took on quite the challenge with this project. Inspired by Alexander Maksik’s 2013 novel, A Marker to Measure Drift, they had to find a way to translate Jacqueline’s story to the screen, all while handling the story’s emotionally intense subject matter with care. Most viewers wouldn’t run to the theater or a streaming service to see a film like Drift, but Chen has made the film a must-watch.
The first chunk of the film focuses solely on introducing viewers to Jacqueline’s world. It follows the realities of her everyday life, moving through a beautiful resort on the island surviving by offering services and knick-knacks to vacationers. She’s in plain sight, but operates in the shadows— she doesn’t say much and it seems that’s preferred by tourists. It’s almost as if the vacationers and Jacqueline have made an unspoken agreement— she makes herself small in order for them to feel more comfortable, and hopefully buy something from her.
There’s something behind Jacqueline’s eyes that makes you want to know more about her. There’s so much she’s hiding, and it feels like it’s fear. Erivo’s performance executes this masterfully.
Enter Callie (Alia Shawkat), a tour guide who’s happy to bask in the sunshine. She does the impossible— forges a connection with Jacqueline. It’s not easy, Jacqueline is distant, of course, but Callie manages to slowly put a crack in her emotional walls. Shawkat is the perfect opposite to Erivo. Her natural glow and warmth play well against Erivo’s heaviness.
The reveal of Jacqueline’s past is haunting, and it deserves a standing ovation. Everything about it— the writing, acting, the cinematography, is incredible. It completely colors the whole film and is a triumphant, defining moment.
Drift should be a staple in any master class on storytelling. Jacqueline’s journey is painted beautifully, and its harrowing nature is approached with expertise and admiration. It’s a tough subject matter, one that would scare a lot of people, but it’s never been more important. Jacqueline’s story is ours, and it deserves a spot in cinema’s eternal legacy.
Drift premiered back in January at the Sundance Film Festival. It is still awaiting distribution.