Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast, Geraldine Chaplin
Written by: Sergio G. Sanchez
Running Time: 114 mins
Release date: 1st January 2013
The tragedy of the tsunami that hit Thailand on Boxing Day 2004 and killed an estimated 280,000 people was always going to be an interesting subject matter for film makers. Surely on that day, acts of true heroism and man’s faith and hope would be perfect for cinematic spectacle. Well here is The Impossible, based on one of the true stories of that horrific day but it’s a film that should have been emotive and powerful instead comes across as completely contrived.
Dr Maria Belon, her husband Henry and their three children are taking a well deserved holiday during the Christmas period in a new hotel on the edge of the Indian Ocean in Thailand. Everything is peaceful and fine and lovely until out of the blue, the resort and the country are hit by the worst tsunami in living history. Separated from each other and having to find a safe haven, Maria and her son, Lucas, find a tree to hide in till help comes. Maria’s leg is badly cut and she is struggling with the pain. Relying on the strength of her son, they eventually are found and taken to hospital, where Lucas tries his best to help others, all the while hoping for his father to arrive and for her mother, who is slowly getting worse, to survive. Meanwhile, Henry and the two other boys are alive and they are determined to be reunited with Maria and Lucas, even though they have no idea if they survived the terrible disaster.
The first act is incredible, a triumph for the special effects department as well as the sound effects and editors. The tsunami is terrifying. Filmed in the second largest water tank, you genuinely feel like you are experiencing the horrors of the waters that killed so many. Every sound is amplified so you almost feel each piece of junk and debris hitting you; the confusion of thousands of gallons of water rushing at the screen immerses you. It is an amazing, somewhat unpleasant experience for both eyes and ears.
The second act, the survival part is also well executed. If you are of a squeamish nature, then this might not be the film for you as Maria, supporting a horrific leg wound, screams in pain at every movement, a scream that penetrates your soul. It’s a little slow moving yet effective and only goes to show how humans, in time of adversity and tragedy, will carry on regardless to survive.
However, the film really suffers from the overly emotional final act and here it falls down badly. The trouble is Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona, who made the brilliantly spooky ghost story, The Orphanage, knows he has a very emotional story, a family separated, desperately trying to find each other. It’s moving enough but Bayona obviously doesn’t believe that it is completely enough, so he throws in so many contrivances and then a musical score that is so overbearing that any real emotion is sucked out of the piece. It’s as if he has flashed on the screen “You will cry now!” and it is far too much.
The performances are adequate. Naomi Watts as Maria has much more to do than Ewan MacGregor as her husband. She screams in agony and these are sometimes too uncomfortable to listen to and then changes to a woman slowly on the edge of dying and she does this perfectly fine. MacGregor isn’t given the luxury of pain and suffering but of a man desperate to find his loved ones but that is the limit of his performance and it comes across somewhat pitched at one level.
The film does have one shining star in Tom Holland as Lucas. Given the most screen time, he is a fine young actor who takes the lead with aplomb and handles carrying the film well. Possibly a face to look out for in the future.
This should have been as absolute masterpiece and with the amazing spectacle of the disaster, you think that it has delivered but it is so badly let down by the final act that you leave the cinema very cold and stony-faced. Well, I did. The other problem is because of the subject matter it’s a hard film to recommend. Disappointing.