THE IMPOSSIBLE. Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, and Oaklee Pendergast. Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona. Rated M (Mature themes, injury detail, brief nudity and infrequent coarse language). 114 min.
This is a Spanish disaster-drama movie about a family that lived through the effects of an Indian Ocean tsunami that hit the Coast of South East Asia on December 26th., 2004. The movie has earned a 2012 Oscar acting nomination for Naomi Watts. The film is a poignant drama, based on true facts reported by members of a Spanish family, who lost each other when the tsunami struck, but who were driven by their affection and love for one another. The family in the movie is English-speaking, as is the film.
Maria Bennett (Naomi Watts), her husband, Henry (Ewan McGregor), and their three children, Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin), and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast) fly to the Orchard Beach Resort in Khao Lak, Thailand, for a Christmas vacation. Warning signs occurred on their flight about the trouble ahead, but none saw the signals. On Boxing day, the tsunami struck, and the family became separated in the swirling waters. Maria and Lucas find each other quickly, and eventually Henry and the two younger boys are reunited. Henry searches desperately for his wife and other son, and they all come together at a hospital for survivors where Maria is waiting for a life-saving operation for injuries she suffered in the tsunami. The emotion of their final reunion is very moving.
The acting of Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor is impressive. Watts communicates her pain and anguish realistically, and both she and McGregor convey vividly the drama of their mutual anticipation of impending loss. There is also a very effective performance by Tom Holland, who plays their eldest child, Lucas, who does all he can to keep his mother alive.
The real impact of the movie, however, lies in its technical sophistication. The work of the Production Design, Set Decoration, and Art Direction teams is outstanding, especially the visual-effects production team which has reproduced the effects of Nature's wrath so well. The havoc and chaos caused by the tsunami are reproduced in amazing detail. The tsunami itself was created with a mixture of digital effects, and water surges in an especially built tank in Spain, and extra realism was provided by the use of actual survivors of the tsunami itself. With the excellent camera and design work, one never doubts for a moment that the actors in the movie didn't experience the disaster. The film is photographed and designed superbly, and the integration of the actors with their environment is enormously convincing.
As the suspense builds up as to whether the family will find each other in the aftermath of the tsunami, the movie begins to tug unashamedly at the heart strings, and in the final run, the movie becomes a tear-jerker. The tugging is manipulative, but the film is utterly reinforcing of family love.
This is a movie that breaks the rules governing most disaster films when they reserve the disaster for the film's finish rather than its start. But palpable emotion builds up as the movie progresses, and the film is one that is both moving and compassionate.
Peter W. Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.
Out 24th January, 2013.