Film Review: The Impossible (2012)
Making a film centering on the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami heartfelt but not overly sentimental is no easy task, but The Impossible (2012) does an admirable job doing so. It is a harrowing disaster movie but not of the consumerist big-budget, action-packed studio-produced blockbuster type; rather it is a sobering tale of survival and humanity above special effects and cheap thrills. Although the filmmakers changed the main characters from Spanish to British vacationers, the “based on a true story” helps ground the film’s more mawkish moments. Despite its occasional manipulative nature, The Impossible is a traumatic but life-affirming film with excellent performances from its cast.
The film is a fictionalized account of one family’s struggle to survive and reunite after the devastating 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. The parents, Maria and Henry start off bickering here and there with a humdrum life, but when the disaster hits, those issues disappear. She is severely wounded in the tsunami, so one of their sons Lucas must help care for her as they seek higher ground and medical attention. Her health rapidly deteriorates (particularly from a gruesome leg injury) while Lucas looks to help others in need. Henry and their other two sons Thomas and Simon are spared severe injuries but are hurt and separated nonetheless; he sends them off for help while he stays behind to look for Lucas and Maria.
Some people will be upset that the filmmakers made the family a privileged British one instead of sticking to the family the screenplay was based on (a Spanish one). Nevertheless, this was simply a window into the story, and the fact it was based on a true one is sufficient detail to help audiences connect to the film and its characters. If this were a totally fictional depiction, viewers would not be so quick to suspend their disbelief when overly-sentimental plot points occur through manipulative techniques (i.e. hospital scene near the end).
With such amazingly grounded performances, audiences have more reason to relate to the characters and their situation(s). Naomi Watts’ Oscar nomination is warranted with her raw, vulnerable performance as Maria. Ewan McGregor is great as Henry as well, particularly in a scene where he breaks down in a call to relatives at home. The real find of the film, though, is young Tom Holland who makes his feature-film debut as Lucas; he totally carries the film and conveys all the necessary emotions that sweep the audience away. Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast give admirable turns as younger sons/brothers Thomas and Simon.
Of course, the massive production and set design alongside a solid special effects team makes for an impressive scale and harrowing viewing experience. This could have easily been bumped up to an R-rating for the intensity during the tsunami scenes and brief bursts of violent injuries. Furthermore, the desperation after the initial waves makes for an even more sobering viewing experience, but it is an inspirational tale of survival and love. Still, it is not as rosy-cheeked as many other disaster movies that come out of Hollywood; the film never forgets that despite this family’s impossible struggle to survive is fairly happy, many families have forever been destroyed and still feel broken to this day – centering the story of the tsunami on one family’s account is a brave choice for a production company but a wise one as it grounds the incredible reality of the situation and relates it to the audience.
Director Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage) has indeed crafted a worthwhile film regarding the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami that is equal parts thrilling and emotional. Although it can be a bit too sentimental at times, it has its heart in the right place as it conveys the complexity of the situation in a tasteful manner. Furthermore, Watts, McGregor and especially Holland really help to bring the audience into the incredible story. The Impossible is not for the faint of heart but it is a solid, life-affirming account of the devastating tsunami that has claimed the lives of almost a quarter of a million and untold millions of those unborn.
The Impossible – 8/10