<Review by: Sailesh Ghelani>
Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona. Starring Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland
I didn’t expect much from this film about the devastating tsunami that hit South East Asia on December 26, 2004 killing over a 100,000 people. But this Spanish production with Hollywood stars turned out to be a fantastically stirringly and realistic retelling of a family’s plight in the midst of one of humanity’s worst natural disasters.
Juan Antonio Bayona’s only other film was the chilling movie The Orphanage (top rated on Rotten Tomatoes, just like The Impossible). And his penchant for the scary has manifested itself in this disaster movie (some may call it disaster porn) where you find yourself instilled with the fear of god at points, sometimes with a tear at others shifting uncomfortably in your seat at the graphic scenes of blood and gore.
Based on a true story of a Spanish family caught up in the tidal wave that swept and destroyed their resort leaving them separated and shattered, The Impossible recasts the principal characters with Hollywood stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor as Maria and Henry who are holidaying with their three kids (one of them played by an amazing Tom Holland) in Thailand around Christmas time.
Right from the start Bayona ratchets up the tension as the family’s plane has a bumpy ride descending into their destination. And while they’re setting up the family situation you wait for the inevitable, since you know it’s coming. And when it does indeed come, you are swept away with it in a disaster scene that is probably one of the top five ever. Barely any CGI is visible as a huge wall of water sweeps Maria and her son Lucas (Tom Holland) away, banging them on trees and rocks and cars as blood splatters and they both scream in pain trying to unite in this blitzkrieg of tragedy. Though they think husband and dad Henry and the other two kids are washed away into oblivion, we are soon brought back to the resort where we find them alive but still struggling. Henry must leave his two sons and search for his wife Maria and Lucas.
Vistas of death and destruction abound, lines of dead bodies, but Bayona never focuses on the macro. He and his cast have done a brilliant job of capturing human emotion, fear and spirit. Naomi Watts cries almost throughout the film but it isn’t all drama or hamming. It’s the genuine fear of a mother who feels she must stay alive to be there for her son. You will tear up at several points during the film, one of which is Ewan McGregor’s heart-rending phone call with his father-in-law about the loss of his wife and son. Human compassion and selfishness are both portrayed realistically and beautifully.
This isn’t a film you’ll want to watch first thing in the morning or if you simply want a fun and entertaining evening. It is ridden with sorrow, emotion, loss, pain, but also has plenty of raw emotion, great acting, and heart-tugging moments and is one of the better ‘true story’ films I’ve seen in ages.
PS: Read this interesting article in the guardian online The Impossible is ‘beautifully accurate’, writes tsunami survivor