Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Cast: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland
Running time: 113 mins
Release: January 1st
Aggressive realism is the order of the day in Juan Antonio Bayana’s The Impossible, a disaster movie based on the true story of a family’s struggles during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that administers an unmerciful blow to the gut while tearing at the heartstrings.
Henry (Ewan McGregor) and Maria (Naomi Watts) are a well-to-do British couple who bring their three sons to an idyllic resort in remote Thailand for Christmas. The boys take to these luxurious surroundings instantly and the family settle in for what promises to be a memorable holiday. But when the tsunami hits without warning they are enveloped in chaos, Maria and her eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland) separated from the others and fighting for their lives in perilous conditions. Hampered by injuries and overcome with dread in the immediate aftermath, they must strain every sinew in their bid to survive a cataclysmic turn of events that has left them in the dark as to the welfare of the others.
Bayana’s depiction of the tsunami is masterful. The viewer is sucked into the maelstrom along with the Bennetts, and the sense of disorientation is alarming as the helpless victims on screen are brutally tossed in every direction by an awesome force of nature that annihilates without hesitation or prejudice. This is visceral filmmaking, and elements of it are retained after the initial danger subsides. At the local overcrowded hospital people wander around with all manner of cuts and lesions, many of them coughing up blood. It’s incredibly graphic and unsettling, giving Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ a run for its money in the gore department.
But it isn’t all lacerations and unflinching characterisation; there are plenty of corny scenes that concern themselves with love, faith, hope, vulnerability, universality and the triumph of the human spirit. This tearjerker element does not sit well alongside the ferocity that permeates the first half of the movie. Admittedly the story is based on the real-life experiences of a Spanish family in 2004, but it should not automatically follow that Bayana has to go all Kumbaya on our asses—and slap a mawkish title like The Impossible on it to boot.
Watts puts in a proper shift for a role that is physically demanding and, like McGregor, she comes up trumps when the time comes to deliver her lines in scenes that are essential to the emotional hook of movie—though both actors are nicely teed up by the script and the circumstances their characters find themselves in. Tom Holland shows great promise in the role of Lucas, carrying off the numerous scenes involving himself and Watts with a credibility that hints at a level of maturity which bodes well for his future development.
The Impossible clearly prioritises intensity above all else yet in doing so it runs the risk of being tagged ‘life-affirming’—a label which, although unduly restrictive in this case, would not be entirely unwarranted either.