The Impossible (2012) / Drama-Adventure

MPAA rated: PG-13 for intense disaster sequences, disturbing injury images, and brief nudity
Length: 114 min.

Cast: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast, Sonke Mohring, Marta Etura, Ploy Jindachote, Geraldine Chaplin
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Screenplay: Sergio G. Sanchez
Review published January 15, 2013

The Impossible 2012The Orphanage director, Juan Antonio Bayona, continues his excellent direction surrounding lives that are nearly driven to oblivion in the face of great tragedy with The Impossible, a film inspired on a true story about a family of five who fights to survive after their Thailand beachfront hotel is overwhelmed by the mighty force of a tsunami on Christmas, 2004, following an earthquake in the Indian Ocean. Naomi Watts (Fair Game, You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger) and Ewan McGregor (Haywire, The Men Who Stare at Goats) star as married British couple Maria and Henry, who are on vacation at the hotel with their three boys - Lucas (Holland), Thomas (Joslin), and Simon (Pendergast) - when tragedy strikes as they are enjoying a day by the pool. The parents are separated by the massive floods, while they sustain life-threatening injuries that makes the prospects for survival bleak.

The Impossible presents a nightmarish scenario for any family, as we see them ripped asunder by forces beyond their control. Henry and Maria do what they can in their separate ways to keep themselves and their boys alive, though with such a massive area of destruction, and with so many people dying or in serious need of medical help, finding each other is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

The performances in The Impossible are uniformly good, with Watts delivering a devastatingly melancholy portrayal of a mother who is dying, but trying to stay alive long enough to make sure her family is safe. Tom Holland as Lucas, the eldest of the three boys, is especially good in such a demanding role for someone of his age, as his emotions must run delve deep, seeing his entire world in an upheaval, thinking he might even be an orphan, all alone in the world, before the day is done. He soon takes the lead as he tries valiantly to help his mother, never really letting on to her the extent of her injuries for fear she will give up all hope of survival, as she is a former doctor who knows a bleak case when she sees one. It's also a touching portrayal when Maria instructs Lucas to spend his time in the assistance of other less fortunate people, rather than sitting and dwelling on his mother's condition.

Meanwhile, after about an hour of film time, we learn what happens to the other side of the family, as Henry is forced into the position of caring for his two boys, or leaving them behind to go out in search of what happened to his wife and eldest child. McGregor doesn't exactly play the part of the meek, bland husband without a bit of discomfort, but he does come alive during the film's more emotional moments down the road.

While much of the film is as emotional and gripping as it should be, the momentum peters out a bit as Bayona engages in a bit of cuteness when members of the family engage in a slew of near-misses in terms of finding one another. It's a shame, as it is wholly unnecessary to drum up a phony climax to play on audience heartstrings, especially as the entire first half of the film showcasing the tsunami and its aftermath is already an emotionally draining experience that is almost unbearable to witness. Such contrivances feel like let-down for audiences looking for a real story without embellishment, further compounded by the fact that the family this story is based on is Spanish and ordinary, not British and movie-star beautiful, changing nationalities in order to appeal more broadly to the world film market. While only a fraction of the nearly quarter million deceased in the tsunami were European tourists, one would never gather this from the casting of this film, as nearly everyone encountered are from one European country or another, while the locals exist mostly for the occasional saving of the protagonists when the situations become especially dire.

The Impossible, despite these substantive flaws in the marketing and contrived plotting department, still benefits from excellent technical specs, terrific acting performances, and a truly compelling tale of one family's attempt to survive that brings home how precious such things as life and family are, as well as the beautiful nature of humanitarian pursuits, regardless of one's background. If the story could be told as it really happened, with actors who resemble the actual family members, and climax that doesn't play out like a typical Spielberg outing, perhaps a truly great film might have emerged, rather than one that is just well made.
Qwipster's rating:  

©2013 Vince Leo