After the dismal experience that was Texas Chainsaw 3D, I was feeling a bit woeful about my goal of watching and reviewing every wide release from 2013. It was up to the next film on my list to raise me up above that quagmire, and I wasn’t sure The Impossible would be up to the task. Sure, it’s been getting some award buzz for star Naomi Watts, but otherwise it seems to have been somewhat sidelined in terms of award-season buzz. Having now seen it, I am incredibly happy that I put it ahead of Promised Land (Review coming soon) on my viewing list. The Impossible combines savvy direction with some incredible performances from Watts, McGregor and Holland to produce one of the most emotionally powerful films of the year.
The Impossible is the real life story of a family on vacation at a beachfront resort in Thailand when the infamous Tsunami of 2004 struck Southeast Asia. After being separated and nearly killed by the event, they are left to find each other among the chaos of the disaster-struck area. The family itself is split in two, with Henry (Ewan McGregor) leaving his two young children, Simon and Thomas, in the care of strangers to look for his wife, Maria (Naomi Watts) and his eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland). While they survived the first waves, Lucas is left with the task of getting his grievously wounded mother to safety. On the way, he finds himself able to help other families find their lost loved ones.
The plot is fairly straight forward, which is appropriate for a character based movie. My only gripe is that like the similarly historically-based drama Argo, a few spots feel like the director milked the suspense for all it was worth. This sacrifice of realism for excitement is somewhat expected but still feels a little excessive at times.
The acting here is nothing short of spectacular in my opinion, and it will be an absolute shame if no one involved is at least nominated for an Academy Award. Naomi Watts is the safest bet, though young actor Tom Holland deserves nearly an equal amount of credit for creating a very real feeling mother-son bond between the two characters. It is incredibly easy to empathize with the two, and for many it will force you to think about how you would feel were you in their situation. McGregor isn’t garnering the praise of his on screen wife, but I felt that he was nonetheless a critical and welcome presence in the movie. He doesn’t get to most of his significant screen time until near the end, but he certainly makes up for lost time in the last twenty minutes or so. It was great to hear him back in his native Scottish accent as well.
The acting is probably about 60% of the reason the film works, but without that other 40% it could have ended up as just another sweeping tear-jerker. Luckily, The Orphanage director Juan Antonio Bayona holds up his end with aplomb. The use of sound and point-of-view camera shots give a lot of scenes a much more personal feel, making it all the easier for you to put yourself in the characters’ shoes (or lack thereof). No scene showcases Bayona’s savvy more than the actual tsunami shots, though. Focusing on Watts and Holland exclusively during the initial torrents, these are some of the most brutally involving and visceral shots of the entire movie. You see both characters tossed around like rag dolls, getting pelted with various pieces of debris underwater and far worse. In the end, the effect is a sobering realization of the true destructive power of that event, which made me at least feel a little guilty for not giving more to efforts to provide relief to the survivors back when it happened.
The Verdict: 8.5/10 Impressive
+ Amazing performances from the three leads
+ Smart and effective direction from Bayona
+ Impressive effects used in the scenes when the tsunami first hits
- A little too much suspense squeezed out of the re-uniting scenes
The Movie Raver: 10/10
Fogs’ Movie Reviews: A++
The Code is Zeek: 4/5
I’m a Movie Nerd: “a heart-wrenching story told in an incredibly effective way”