“The Impossible” is a crushing, graphic and oftentimes hard to watch film that places its viewers in the middle of an incomprehensible natural disaster. Under the direction of Juan Antonio Bayona, this is a gut-wrenching film and one you don’t just watch, you experience.
The film is based on a real family who survived the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which killed more than 230,000 people in 14 countries. It’s a bit disappointing that the actual Spanish family has to be replaced in the film with white actors since the movie isn’t one that hinges on star power and box office draws. The leads are great, but I’m sure somewhere out there were five Spanish actors who could have done just as capable a job.
Henry (Ewan McGregor, “Beginners”) and Maria (Naomi Watts, “J. Edgar”) take their three sons, Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast) on a coast side vacation in Southeast Asia just days before a massive tsunami hits. Bayona makes it clear early on that the parents love their children and vice versa. It almost gets to the point where you wish he’d stop toying with our emotions since we know what will soon happen to the family.
When the tsunami hits, Bayona unleashes a cataclysm that would make Roland Emmerich (“The Day After Tomorrow”) jealous. Waves gush out through the resort tearing down trees, smashing windows and sweeping away vacationers and furniture like they were nothing.
We follow Lucas and Maria trying to avoid the current and wince whenever some debris bangs into them and look away when a sharp object triggers another gushing stream of blood. Watts is an actress I tend to take for granted because she’s always solid, but she reaches an even more impressive level here as you feel her terror and desperation. As he did previously with “The Orphanage,” Screenwriter Sergio G. Sanchez expertly captures the voice of a parent terrified at the thought of losing her child and he makes it feel all the more immediate and close here.
Holland is extraordinary. He goes past that wall most child actors have where they’re playing a role and becomes that brave, scared little boy trying to care for his battered mother. McGregor remains as consistently on as always and Henry’s search for his family offers the film’s moments most likely to choke you up.
Bayona doesn’t try to pretty up the aftermath. There’s some harsh images from peeling skin off Maria’s leg, a drowned dog, tons of blood and some “make it stop!” vomiting scenes, but it never feels gratuitous. He makes the tsunami’s repercussions more personal than just stacks and stacks of bodies and destruction as far as his camera lenses can show.
“The Impossible” is one of those movies that’s very tough to watch. It’s a little too realistic to be a light, relaxing trip to the movies, but it’s undeniable effective in portraying a family’s love and devotion to one another even in the most unimaginable setting. It may be difficult to sit through at times, but it’s well worth a viewing on the big screen.
Rating: 9 out of 10