The Impossible, 2012.
Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona.
Starring Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland.
A dramatisation of the events of the 2004 Tsunami, following the Bennett family as they struggle for survival.
Creating a film of the 2004 Tsunami was always going to divide audiences on the subject of taste, but no one can argue that Juan Bayona’s The Impossible is quite simply an emotionally rich, gut wrenching film from start to finish.
The challenge Bayona faced was in trying to decide who to focus on. The natural disaster killed approximately 200,000 people so obviously Bayona couldn’t focus on everyone. Luckily he managed to avoid the pitfalls of so many disaster movies (take The Day After Tomorrow, Deep Impact and so on) by choosing to focus on one family’s real experience. The Impossible is clearly a Westernised film, but when you have Naomi Watts providing one of the best performances of her career, you can try to forget the white nature of the film. The Anglo Saxon-esque nature of The Impossible is the only flaw I can find in what is quite simply a superb film.
The success of The Impossible is down to phenomenal directing by Bayona in his first English language film. Bayona proved with the fantastic horror The Orphanage that he was one to watch, and with this film he recreates the horrifying tsunami to great effect. The film opens with the Bennett family arriving in Thailand. The casting of the family is key to the success of The Impossible, Naomi Watts stands out as the strong Mother Maria, Ewan McGregor delivers one of his finest performances in years as determined father Henry, whilst newcomer Tom Holland is phenomenal as the coming of age son Lucas. The two smaller children – Thomas and Simon are good but it’s Watts, McGregor and Holland that carry this film.
When I heard about this film I was worried that the tsunami would be all CGI and wouldn’t demonstrate the horror of what happened on Boxing Day 2004. Bayona has risen to the challenge and produced one of the most horrifying scenes of all time. Focusing on Maria (Watts) and Lucas (Holland), the combination of CGI and strenuous scenes in a water tank has recreated the terrifying tsunami. The first wave in itself is hard to watch, but it’s the second that pulls at the heartstrings. It’s a testament to Bayona that he’s managed to create such a strong emotional pull within a scene that could have just focussed on mass destruction. At its heart The Impossible is a story about people.
One of the most surprising elements of The Impossible is the amount of gore they were able to include within a 12A film. Maria is horrifically injured and I am yet to meet someone who hasn’t flinched when we see the effect the tsunami has had on her body. The Impossible doesn’t shy away from the effects of the tsunami. As Maria and Lucas navigate the destruction there are numerous bodies of all ages. One of the most harrowing moments is when young Lucas sees a car go past and there is the quiet sound of a baby crying inside. Although The Impossible focuses on one family, the extent of the destruction if shown throughout, often making it uncomfortable to watch.
In terms of plot, The Impossible follows a standard formula of family broken family reunited. What makes is the heart wrenching acting from the leads and the rest of the cast. Many of the extras are actual tsunami survivors, and there is a moment when Ewan McGregor is surrounded by survivors and they each tell their own true stories. McGregor isn’t in the film as much as he should be, but he provides a heart breaking performance. The telephone call he makes home feels genuine and is so emotional that only those with hearts of stone won’t be moved. McGregor has provided some great performances in his career, but at times he does wobble – The Impossible reminds us just what a fine actor he is.
The Impossible isn’t the kind of film that you watch again and again, but it is one that everyone should see. Although Watts has been Oscar nominated for her phenomenal performance, The Impossible has been largely overlooked by the Academy – especially in the special effects department. It is a film that dramatizes a horrific event, but does it in such a way that you’ll be crying buckets by the end of it.