“The Impossible” Movie Review

     It’s often the case that disaster films feature incredible special effects, but the setting is populated by card board characters of whom you just don’t buy in to.  This is certainly not the case with “The Impossible”, which features brutal and gut wrenching sequences of the tsunami  that hit the coast of Thailand in 2004, but also features Oscar worthy performances by both Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts.  The result is a riveting film that captures this very dire situation in a way I haven’t seen before.  Perhaps the decision to focus on a single family’s experience was the right one, sacrificing the chance to present the material in a more epic fashion and instead opting be a more personal story.  The characters in the film are based on a real life family  and the obstacles they faced for survival were grim at best, yet they never gave up hope when the odds were stacked against them.

     The proceedings begin a day before Christmas Eve when a family vacationing at a beach resort arrive and check into their upgraded villa right on the beach.  They seem to be a fairly normal family.  We are told Henry (McGregor) works in Japan and Maria (Watts) is a doctor currently not practicing in order to stay home with their three children.  They enjoy typical Christmas traditions, opening gifts and celebrating, but then make their way to the swimming pool for what I’m sure they believed would be a day of relaxation.  You get the idea they planned this type of holiday to get away from their everyday life as Maria pesters Henry when he’s caught with his business cell phone checking work emails.

     Director Juan Antonio Bayona smartly lets the tsunami’s beginning play out through the eyes of the main characters.  Maria is simply reading a book under an umbrella, while Henry is in the swimming pool with the two youngest boys.  All they get is a few seconds of rumbling before a wall of water seemingly one hundred feet high comes crashing over the resort.  Without warning, everyone is swept in different directions and we’re left with an image of Henry trying to shield his two young boys as the water overcomes them.  Bayona stays with Maria initially, as she is tossed and turned beneath the water before finding her way to the surface of the water.  It’s there where she finds her oldest son, Lucas (Tom Holland), and the two of them are carried by the rough current farther inland. 

     Eventually, Maria and Lucas make it out, but Maria is badly injured and Lucas, barely a teenager, is forced to care for his ailing mother.  The initial scenes involving Maria and Lucas surviving this ordeal are some of the most intense you will see all year.  The effects team has built around them such a life like setting that the viewer will feel as though they are experiencing this tragedy themselves.  The environments created by the filmmakers goes so thoroughly above and beyond those created in films like “2012” or “The Day After Tomorrow”, that I have to believe this film has set the new standard for how a disaster movie should be made.  The effects, coupled with what is a very endearing human story, create one of the most realistic survival situations ever put to film.

     As Maria and Lucas find their way to a hospital overrun with victims,  we are let in on the fact that Henry and both of their young boys survived and are in the upper levels of the decimated hotel with other survivors.  Henry decides to search for Maria and Lucas and will stop at nothing to find them.  If the outcome of the story is similar to what happened in real life, than it is nothing short of miraculous.  With such chaos at every turn, this story is an amazing tale of survival, well acted by an inspired cast.  Naomi Watts, in particular, turns in a gutsy performance worthy of recognition as one of the best of the year.  With her character being the focus of the film, she effectively conveys the effects of the extraordinary circumstances on herself as well as those around her. Her performance is so subtle that I believe anyone could envision themselves in her shoes.  Rather than being heroic, she is simply making decisions in the same manner  we all would, this allowing the audience to view her as a character they can relate to.  Still though,  the film is aptly titled, as you spend the entire grueling 114 minute running time wondering how anyone could possibly get through such an ordeal.  GRADE: A