The Impossible considers the South Asian tsunami of December 26, 2004, a natural disaster that killed more than 200,000 people. If that doesn't sound like a good time at the movies, well, The Impossible focuses on an ultimately uplifting tale of one family of foreign tourists on one beach in one country affected by the wave.
It's based on the true story of the Belóns from Spain, and the filmmakers and production crew are all Spanish (including director J.A. Bayona). But for the adaptation, they've made the family British.
The Impossible trailer lets you know that the family is spending Christmas at a beach resort in Thailand. When the tsunami hits, the parents and children are separated, with mom Maria (Naomi Watts) and son Lucas (Tom Holland) clinging to one another and dad Henry (Ewan McGregor) and sons Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast) together. Each group doesn't know if the other survives, and, in the post-tsunami chaos, they struggle to find each other. Will they be reunited?
The Impossible is a technically impressive film full of fascinating observations and boasts several terrific performances. The lead-up to the disaster is economical (the wave hits 13 minutes into the film). Characterization is brief but enough to present the Belón family as perfectly ordinary. But, when disaster happens, ordinary people are forced to respond to extraordinary events. There is no villain in the piece.
The center of the film is the wave, a long, harrowing sequence in which Maria and Lucas are violently carried miles inland by the surge. The debris — tree limbs, furniture, cars — is as dangerous as the water itself. The immense power of the tsunami can be physically felt, and Bayona is utterly in command of this material, including gorgeously powerful underwater photography. The script and direction put you in the action: They used real water rather than CGI, it's shot on location in Thailand, and Maria Belón was an adviser on the film, lending considerable authenticity.
Watts is wonderful, and there's physical brilliance in her performance. But the real lead may be Holland, who plays the eldest of the children. Through his eyes we see the full measure of the disaster, from the wave to the surviving, grieving lost to the bureaucracy to the recovery. Holland nails the emotional arc.
Opening Friday, January 11th