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Overall Rating

Awesome: 0%
Worth A Look86.36%
Average: 4.55%
Pretty Bad: 4.55%
Total Crap: 4.55%

3 reviews, 4 user ratings

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Impossible, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Impressive, but pay attention to where it doesn't go."
4 stars

It's easy to be cynical about certain aspects of "The Impossible", and I share the reservations of anybody frustrated at this particular story from the 26 December 2004 tsunami being the one to get the highest-profile big-screen treatment. But once the decision has been made to tell this story, there is almost no reason to quibble with the execution; it's exceptionally well-made and avoids the most ubiquitous pitfall of its genre quite nicely indeed.

An English family living in Japan - father Henry (Ewan McGregor), mother Maria (Naomi Watts), and sons Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin), and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast) arrive in Thailand on Christmas Eve to spend the holidays at a resort. Henry is worried about his job security; Maria thinks it may be time to return home and for her to return to the workforce (she's a doctor) in any event. Those problems, of course, will be dwarfed by what happens on Boxing Day, when a wall of water slams into the resort along with the rest of the coast. The next thing she realizes, she's floating in the middle of a flood, with only oldest son Lucas anywhere to be seen.

The flood itself is an amazing sequence of horrifying spectacle, both in the special-effects shots of watery death rapidly approaching and the aftermath. The initial scenes with Maria and Lucas are extraordinary, exactly what one wants from this sort of movie: Exciting pieces of action, sure, but also packed full of information and characterization - seeing how they swim toward each other desperately and trust each other completely, without hesitation is quite the demonstration of how a picture is worth a thousand words.

For all the amazing moments the filmmakers could put on screen, what director Juan Antonio Bayona and screenwriter Sergio G. Sanchez choose to show is impressively chosen: They stay with Maria and Lucas for an unusually long time after the wave hits, letting the audience really place themselves in that situation and its desperation before showing what else is going on; when we do get other characters' perspectives, we're caught up with words rather than flashbacks, almost as if the movie is locked into real time along with the characters, and exercising that sort of control would break the connection to that sense of helplessness. At times, there is the sense that characters are being kept off-screen and their status left vague to create false suspense, but it's rare, and the almost casual way some reunions happen does a nice job of characterizing those situations as a natural result of chaos rather than narrative manipulation.

The cast, naturally, is as good as one might expect in the obvious cases and better in the rest. Ewan McGregor is engaging, wearing Henry's heart on his sleeve. He's especially good at saying things with sincerity, which makes his frequent pairing with the younger kids a natural fit, so that he can talk to them and us at once. Naomi Watts, meanwhile, excels at disappearing into a character, showing Maria's pain, exhaustion, and desperation steadily incrementing. She's wonderfully nuanced, especially as she tries to simultaneously protect and trust Lucas. Tom Holland, meanwhile, is pretty great as that oldest son, finding the line between professed maturity and the real thing and always being on the right side. And while it's sometimes hard to tell how much of a very young performer's performance is skill and how much is good casting/editing, Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast are impressively used; a lot of films have trouble making fine distinctions between kids of different ages.

Looking at that cast does bring up a set of questions that are in some ways unfair and in others difficult to ignore - for a story about a disaster that befell Asia, this is not only a story about European tourists, but the real-life Spanish family has been changed to a quite fair English one, presumably to make it more profitable for a global (or American) audience. Heck, the first other person Maria and Lucas encounter is the blondest kid you can imagine, and a lot of time is spent with foreign tourists, with the Thai locals seemingly there to help them versus having their own stories. On the one hand, it's a true story and a good one worth telling; on the other, I would really like to see a movie of this scale that shows the tsunami from the Thai perspective (and if it's got the lush cinematography that Thai films are known for, so much the better - The Impossible looks perfectly nice and acceptable, but even cheap Thai horror movies tend to look amazing).

Something that works to counter that - indeed, from some perspectives, the film's greatest virtue - is that at no point do Bayona and company make The Impossible's tale of survival a matter of this family deserving it more. A lot of films will set up that sort of through-line that creates a sort of emotional cause-and-effect for the audience: There's something the main characters need to say to each other, or can't allow to be the last thing they said to each other, or their faith (either in a specific version of God or each other) is particularly strong, and that's why they, in particular, must live through this! It's arrogant bull, especially when the audience gives a moment's thought to all the supporting and background characters who don't get the happy ending (sorry, guys, you had to die so that these wealthy tourists could realize how much they love each other), and that The Impossible does not go in this direction - that it does not make this family's survival more important or meaningful than them being extraordinarily fortunate - is a case of admirable restraint and honesty.

And, in a way, it gives their story all the more power: The very arbitrariness highlights nature's power, and reminds the audience that those guys could be us, or not, depending almost entirely on luck. It's still a good story, told quite well, and impressive for how it doesn't try to be more "meaningful" than that.

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originally posted: 01/13/13 16:22:32
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2012 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 48th Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 48th Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

5/19/14 meep Well made but ultimately rather boring 3 stars
8/29/13 Tammy Woodall True story that had you on the edge of your seat. 4 stars
1/08/13 alice There was nothing I liked not the acting not the story and not even the tsunami scene 1 stars
1/01/13 Man Out Six Bucks White people leave the colored commoners to twist in the wind after hoarding healthcare 2 stars
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  21-Dec-2012 (PG-13)
  DVD: 23-Apr-2013


  DVD: 23-Apr-2013

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