The Impossible

PhotobucketOn December 26, 2004 a tsunami occurred in the Indian Ocean as a result of an earthquake off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. The tragedy was responsible for the deaths of over 230,000 people in fourteen countries. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history. Indonesia was the hardest-hit, followed by Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand. Those are facts, but they certainly don’t have the sentimental impact of the personal story.

The Impossible is based on the actual chronicle of a Spanish family’s struggle while on Christmas vacation in Thailand at a tropical paradise resort. This then is the story of the subsequent terror from the standpoint of a British couple, Maria and Henry, played by Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, and their three children. They become separated and this account details their arduous journey to reunite.

At the outset what impresses is the sheer spectacle in the epic depiction of the tsunami. Apocalyptic is the only way to accurately describe the utter severity of the catastrophe. We’ve seen natural disasters at the cinema over the last two decades: Twister (1996), Armageddon (1998), The Perfect Storm (2000), The Day After Tomorrow (2004). While those flicks were entertaining, they don’t even come close to the depth contained within this convincing tale. Perhaps that’s partially because The Impossible recounts a true story that millions, myself included, saw unfold on TV. Those images are hard to shake and visually this does a brilliant job in recreating the absolute magnitude of the chaos.

It’s the extraordinary performances that’s separate this from other memorable disaster films. An authentic recreation of a calamity, however accomplished, wouldn’t have been enough to sustain a movie. Ewan McGregor as father Henry, Tom Holland as his oldest son Lucas and most notably Naomi Watts as Maria, his wife, are the heart of this picture. This is a story that wisely focuses on the drama of human feeling. It is largely unconcerned with collective depictions of horrendous misfortune in the various countries affected or sweeping news reports from around the world. The script is concerned with the exclusive perspective of a small group of people, This depicts what an individual would experience – both the physical and emotional effects. The situation is devastatingly real. It’s very easy to imagine yourself in their shoes. There are times where I was overcome with grief. Sometimes in seemingly trivial actions where it’s difficult to explain why it moved me so. At one point, a rescued toddler gently brushes the arm of Maria as sort of an unspoken gesture of gratitude. I can’t explain why, but I actually teared up at the expression. There are many moments like that throughout.

The Impossible takes the adversity of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and wrings genuine emotion from the events. I’ll admit there are a couple instances where I did feel a little manipulated. Do we really need Fernando Velázquez’s score to swell so loudly in scenes where the human drama speaks for itself? But that’s a minor quibble. Overall this is a heartbreaking take on a real life event from the intimate point of view of one family. Director Juan Antonio Bayona manages to tell their story without it ever being gratuitous or resorting to sensationalism. Credit should go to a trio of thespians: Ewan McGregor, young actor Tom Holland and Naomi Watts. Much of the understanding in their roles is hidden in what they don’t say – a look, a reaction, a smile. It’s difficult to convey that kind of expression well. They handle their respective parts with dexterity. Watts gives an especially impressive performance. There is not one false note in her portrayal. Her sincerity, along with her co-stars, strengthen an already powerful film.

17 Responses to “The Impossible”

  1. I’m guessing it wasn’t an accident that you watched this on December 21st, right? 😉

    I think I have to see this one. The trailer left a bad mark on me. I saw it when I went to see Lincoln, and I couldn’t help myself from laughing. It looked SO stupid. And I know, that makes me “SO stupid,” as well, because it’s about a disaster that changed and ended several hundreds of thousands of lives. But now that I’m reading extremely positive reviews for The Impossible, I guess I’m curious.

    Happy Christmas!


    • I saw it on December 21 because that’s the day it was released. You and trailers. This has happened before as I recall. You seem to have the opposite emotional reaction that most humans would have to them. Go figure! 😆

      Merry Christmas!!


      • I actually don’t remember much about the trailer EXCEPT laughing during it. I don’t even remember quite why, and all I can really do is give my best guess. Maybe it looked like 2012 to me? I don’t know.

        And the other trailer instance you’re thinking of is probably Argo. But I’m naturally anti-trailers. I only see them at the theaters, unless there’s one I feel like I’m dying to see.


  2. Great review, Mark. Glad you liked this one, too. The drama was relentless and I couldn’t stop crying from beginning to end. The most intense cinematic experience I’ve ever had. Splendid acting. Agree about the music thing, though.


  3. I wasn’t sure if I’d see it before but I think I’ll check it out now. Nice review.


  4. Great review. I saw an early screening of this film back in November with Naomi doing a Q&A after the film. I agree that she did a great job in this. There wasn’t a dry eye in the theater. I was able to keep it together but the visuals that Bayona pulled off have never been done before.


  5. i’m really looking forward to this, as I’ve only read positive reviews. I also wasn’t sure about the trailer, but the more I read about it, the increasingly intrigued I am by the emotional rollercoaster this appears to be. Fantastic review, Mark!


  6. When I saw the trailer, I was hooked, tearing up everytime I saw it. The movie was such an emotional experience. A true story of survival during a huge tsunami. I was glued to every scene, wondering how I would deal with these circumstances. True love of family gives you strength like no other. One of my favorites of the year. 4 1/2 stars.


    • It’s amazing something as short as a trailer can get the emotions going, but I hear you. Focusing on just one family allowed the filmmakers to really connect with how tragedy affects people in a personal way. Powerful stuff.


  7. GaryLee828 Says:

    I was considering renting this from Amazon, but searched for your review on here first to make sure it didn’t drop the ball. Since you rate it so high I’m definitely going to rent; then come back and finish your review.


    • GaryLee828 Says:

      I just finished it, and thought it was well done. I liked it a lot. The scene that I thought may have been the best acted was when Henry used the man’s phone and called home and broke down on the phone. I think Ewan McGregor did an excellent job in that scene worthy of Oscar consideration. Watts, too. I also liked the sequence after they put Maria under and it flashed back to her POV immediately following the moment after the tsunami first hit. I thought that sequence was masterfully executed, and very well directed. And of course just that sequence in the beginning where they’re all at the pool and the tsunami is approaching – just gut wrenching! This is up there with “Life of Pi” for top films of 2012.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: