There is a certain type of drag you feel surrounding a movie like The Impossible. Not because you expect it to be bad, you really have no right to believe it could be anything but good. Still, there is this worry that you've seen it all before. A heart wrenching love story complete against the backdrop of a historically true, but very tragic event. It would be hard to buy into this film if that story of love and overcoming obstacles wasn't actually true as well. Different from something like Titanic, the world is not yet distanced from the lives lost and devastation caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and Tsunami. To impose such a positive story over these events would naturally feel disrespectful, but because the story is an accurate account of Alarez Belon's experience in the middle of such mass destruction their is no false motive detected but instead one that seems to imply that even in the darkest corners we might find hope. It is a harrowing experience to watch the film, and one that I was afraid would be ruined by the trailer that seemed to give far too much away. It did, but not to the extent I was concerned and that I felt I'd already experienced the entire film. It was somewhat of a strange sensation walking out of the movie, coming to terms with the frailty of life and that despite the countless horrible, horrible stories that came out of events like this their is still the possibility of the slightest bit of empathy from whomever fate decides to touch. The Impossible is not a bombastic tale of survival but is instead a very personal film, one that feels very close to the heart and allows the audience the horror of true loss rather than the desperation for false redemption.

Tom Holland and Naomi Watts in The Impossible.
The film is the English language debut of director Juan Antonio Bayona who previously made the Spanish language thriller, The Orphanage. That film painted a truly disturbing little picture and had some moments of extreme tension. It was one of those films you continue to see and go back to so despite the fact this story seemed worlds away from his first venture I was still very excited to see what Bayona would do with his next project. With The Impossible, he has crafted a film that utilizes his skills to the fullest while bringing out new ones as well, which can only be a good sign for his future efforts. In the films opening the Bennett family arrives in Thailand on Christmas Eve to spend the holidays there. It is clear they are a well to do family, the father, Henry (Ewan McGregor) works for a large company in Japan that has them living there at the moment. The mother, Maria (Naomi Watts) is a doctor but is not working at the moment so she is able to take care of their three sons, Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin), and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast). Lucas is nearing adolescence and it is apparent from the beginning he and his mother share a certain bond. The vacation is beautiful as Bayona first gives us gorgeous shots of the beaches, the water and truly captures the tranquility of the moment. It is when that tranquility, in a single moment of silence, becomes something else in the pit of your stomach that the trees come crashing down and a wall of water rushes over the top of their resort.

The sequence in which the family and every single person in the path of the merciless wave are swept up and pushed effortlessly through the debris floating in the water with no regard as to who they are or what they slam into is like a short horror film in itself. Their are moments of truly intense filmmaking throughout this scene. We are given a no holds barred front row seat to the terror of being overcome by water, overpowered by the amount and the inability to do what we know is necessary to survive. The movie paints a picture of how strong that will to survive can be but isn't realistic in the fact that sometimes the will just isn't enough and the body can't survive on will alone. This was interesting considering we knew the ending to the story. We knew everyone was going to make it out alive, but there was still that tinge of doubt that kept asking would someone not make it at a certain point. What else is truly lovely about the film, in an aggravating kind of way, is that the film allows for their to be breakthroughs as often as there are drawbacks. We will see a conflict, or a reunion made in one scene while at the same time it is layered with a parallel story that will only add another layer of difficulty to our family being reunited. The scope of the film was generally bigger than I expected as well, with not only the initial tsunami scene and the destruction it caused but the grand amount of people in which were lost, wounded, cared for, and searching. Bayona uses his large reveal shots to emphasize how truly impossible it seems that the circumstances came together at the right time for this story to be true, but in general they are downright impressive and lend the film a grand quality.

Henry (Ewan McGregor) and his youngest sons Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast).
When I say that with this kind of film you somewhat expect a drag I also mean that many times, with movies such as this, you get a film that meanders and ultimately is doing nothing but trying too hard. The Impossible is a wonderfully paced film that goes for nearly two hours but makes you feel so swept up in the proceedings that you are never bored, never tired, and when you realize the end is near you are surprised, but pleasantly. The heart of the film though belongs to a trio of actors that display wonderful instincts on how to elicit each moment for what it really was and not what it should have been. Though Watts doesn't get the screen time I imagined with all the Oscar talk surrounding her, she is still the rock of the family and the one here who we see face the harshest of challenges. When coupled with Lucas they only bring out the strengths even more. As Lucas, Holland is a revelation. While coming to terms with his awkward stage in life he honorably becomes a man much quicker than he bargained for when he has to step up and take care of his mother. While Watts and McGregor both do fine work here, it is Holland who steals the show and the one we feel the most impact with as his younger brothers go running into his arms. As for McGregor, it is impossible not to like the guy. There is one scene where what he was counting on, what he was holding onto in terms of hope for his wife and son still being out there, waiting to be found are pulled out from under him. This is what I meant by moments. He breaks down, it is heart wrenching. In these moments the music does swell a little too much and manipulation creeps in consistently throughout the film in these forms, but overall those are small qualms with a movie that is ultimately visually and emotionally satisfying.


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