The Impossible (2012)

7 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Knowing what “The Impossible” was about, a feeling of nervousness overwhelmed me and yet a feeling of fascination followed it. The fascination came from the notion that this movie would set up many things that would pay off later after a harrowing journey. The first few minutes feature the central characters—a family of five—enjoying their vacation time at a resort beach in Thailand. They’re solidly developed and feel like a real loving family. But then when there’s a shot of the family looking at the peaceful-looking beach at sunset, a feeling of horror took hold of me because I knew that this was to be a huge amount of irony for what will happen very soon. And surely enough, the next day, they’re enjoying the day after Christmas; the kids are playing in the pool with their father; the mother is reading a book on a beach chair. And then there’s an ominous wind…

Describing it like that would make “The Impossible” seem like a clichéd disaster movie, but there’s something about the way director Juan Antonio Bayona sees these scenes that make them convincing and unnerving. The audience is seeing this movie because of what is going to happen to them and for them, and thus seeing these opening scenes play themselves out as peacefully as possible works in the film’s advantage as an element of suspense.

“The Impossible” tells the story of this family as they endure one of the worst natural disasters in the world—the 2004 tsunami that devastated the Pacific Basin. You would think after Clint Eastwood’s 2010 film “Hereafter,” there couldn’t be another film to portray the outcome of its survivors. Well, “Hereafter” relied on a character’s psychic connection as a need for redemption in that case. Here, it’s pure hope—hope that all your close friends and family members are still alive after a disaster that claimed the lives of millions. That’s the case here, with this central family in “The Impossible.” They’re based on a real family—though their nationality has been changed from Spanish to British for international appeal. This is the story of how they were separated from each other and struggled to survive in the catastrophe’s aftermath to be reunited.

But first, a word about the tsunami sequence. My mouth was open the entire time at how phenomenally brilliant the special effects were, and how masterful the scene was executed. I could barely breathe—you read that right; I could barely breathe. I felt like I was there with the characters just struggling to stay afloat as the water rushed through the village. This was a brilliantly-executed sequence—one of the most terrifying disaster scenes I’ve ever experienced in a movie theater.

Maria Bennett (Naomi Watts) and her oldest son, 12-year-old Lucas (Tom Holland), are separated from Henry Bennett (Ewan McGregor) and the two younger sons, Simon and Thomas (Oaklee Pendergast and Samuel Joslin), as they struggle through the aftermath (floodwaters and mud) to seek help.

A good portion of the movie is seen through the eyes of young Lucas, who has to learn to grow up fast. His mother is badly injured with punctures to her right leg and chest, and so he must help her to keep going. But he also feels the worst for his father and two little brothers, so his mother has to keep hope alive for him. Lucas and Maria do find refuge at a hospital, where many of the tsunami survivors are being treated. It’s then that Lucas is asked to seek patients’ family members who may be around the hospital somewhere. And it’s here that hope comes for Lucas—if they’re alive, then maybe his father and brothers are too. This makes “The Impossible” an effective coming-of-age tale as well as an effective disaster movie.

Extreme devastation; a paradise turned into a wasteland; many people dead; separation from loved ones; not knowing who’s dead or alive. All of these elements are ongoing in “The Impossible” and they’re all powerfully portrayed. The fear and despair that come with these characters are existent. You really get a sense of what they’re all going through, and sincerely hope for the best (although, those who know the true story of this family already know the outcome).

The performances from the principal actors are spot-on. Naomi Watts has the most physically-challenging role, since her character is mostly confined to a hospital bed as she’s in critical condition. Her Oscar nomination for her work is well-deserved. Ewan McGregor, as her husband, is powerful as well. Of the three child actors, Tom Holland, as Lucas, is just brilliant in his feature debut. He has Lucas’ emotions down to a T and delivers the complexity of a little kid looking to live through this crazy situation.

I don’t want to say too much about “The Impossible,” especially for the sake of those who don’t know the story of this family. I didn’t know, when I saw this movie. I think the less you know, the more emotionally involved you are with the story’s execution. From the beginning to the middle to the end, I was absorbed by “The Impossible.” If you’re looking for a disaster movie in the style of Michael Bay or Roland Emmerich, then just keep looking. “The Impossible” is not escapist entertainment. It’s much more complicated than that.

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