The Impossible. Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona. Starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor.
Rating: 8 (out of 10)
The Impossible is a film not to be enjoyed but to be respected, and endured.
A film inspired by the true story of the Boxing Day 2004 earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed 230,000 people is grave enough subject matter. But director Juan Antonio Bayona is a slave to details, and reportedly spent a year on the 10-minute tsunami devastation sequence alone. It's one wild ride.
Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor star as Maria and Henry Bennett, a couple spending Christmas with their three young sons at a beachside Thailand resort. The boys' bodies plopping in the water for fun stands in stark contrast to the survival games to come.
A power loss - the blender stops, as do the Thai ballads poolside - is the first sign of trouble. A 30-foot wave blankets the family, levels the resort, and sends Maria on a wild underwater ride where she is battered and punctured by planks, wires and bits of metal. She surfaces, grabs hold of a tree and screams, believing all is lost.
Miraculously, Maria spots eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland, excellent) and the two wait for the waters to subside. "Is it over?" is Lucas' plea. Maria's inability to comfort her son with what he wants to hear will tug at parents' heartstrings, only slightly less so than the sound of an infant - still strapped in its carseat - floating solo into roaring waters.
(This must be one of the most terrifying movies for parents in recent memory.)
The first moral quandary raised in the film comes soon after: in the midst of incredible pain and under threat of another wave, Lucas and mom hear a toddler's cry in the debris.
Would you save yourself, or risk it all to save another?
Maria's wounds are ghastly: the film is rated PG-13 in part for "disturbing injury images."
You thought 127 Hours was excruciating to watch? That only had five minutes of real torture. I'm still wincing remembering Naomi Watts being hoisted up a tree and dragged through the brush.
Meanwhile Henry and youngest boys Simon and Thomas (Oaklee Pendergast and Samuel Joslin) are on a journey of their own.
It's hard to top the tsunami devastation sequence, but Bayona maintains the tension as the family is lost and reunited several times, and we don't know (for sure) who lives and who dies. The kindness of people with very little to give is contrasted by a well-heeled couple who just want to get the hell out of there . first class, of course.
The scope of the devastation is overwhelming: it was one thing to watch it on news reports, but it's quite another to experience it at ground level. By focusing
solely on the family, rather than cutting to political talking heads and salivating news reporters, Bayona personalizes the story and makes it feel more urgent, more immediate.
Spare score, sparse dialogue, but Watts and McGregor are both outstanding nonetheless.
What's the point of re-living a disaster that claimed the lives of 230,000 people, some will ask. It's a reminder of the power of nature, perhaps. Or maybe The Impossible just serves as yet another excuse to hold your loved ones a little tighter tonight.