The Impossible, director Juan Antonio Bayona’s second feature film following the atmospheric haunted house thriller, The Orphanage (2007), focuses on the tragic Boxing Day Tsunami of 2004 that killed 230,000 people, conveying the ordeal through the experiences of one family. A husband and wife, Maria (Naomi Watts) and Henry (Ewan McGregor), and their three young sons (Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pedergast), have decided to spend Christmas at a beachside resort in Thailand. On Boxing Day they are spending the day at the pool. All of sudden, a faint roar can be heard out at sea, birds can be seen flying in the opposite direction and the ground trembles, signifying the arrival of the Tsunami. The pool dwellers have no time to escape as the wave completely destroys the buildings along the coast and hurtles inland, sweeping up Marie and Lucas (Holland). They reunite after being thrown about for a while in the fierce rapids, and the locals assist in escorting a seriously injured Maria to a nearby hospital. This is unbeknownst to Henry and the two younger sons, who have not given up hope but have been since searching in vain.
The Tsunami sequence is a jaw-dropping technical feat. While we are expecting it in the audience, the characters do not and the enveloping wall of water leaves death and destruction in its wake. It is so convincing that you at once hold your breath with the characters as they get swept along with the surrounding debris.
Though Maria and Lucas want to look for the rest of their family they know that Maria’s wounds need to be treated. Her leg wound is so bad Lucas can’t even look at it. When they hear a cry for help – and eventually locate a little boy amongst the debris – it is Lucas who suggests they try and help him and take him along with them. While Naomi Watts is the film’s headline name – and she has understandably received a number of accolades for her courageous performance – it is Holland’s character arc that is the most moving.
He is terrified and distraught by the thought that his father and brothers have likely not survived, and very concerned about his mother. It is his strength that fuels her own, and he shows great resourcefulness and maturity in accepting responsibility. He not only remains by his mother’s side, but effectively impacts the lives of many survivors with lost loved ones. On the other hand, Maria remains a mother, caring about her son’s wellbeing, and trying her best to ignore her injuries.
There is some gorgeous cinematography with the Tsuanami sequence especially well captured. You feel like you are right there, experiencing all of the terror. The hospital set pieces are always bustling with activity and having all of those extras made up with convincing wounds is very impressive. There is some excellent direction from Bayona. Some of the scenes towards the end are drawn out for dramatic purposes to the point of feeling contrived, but that doesn’t take anything away from the fact that they’re well choreographed. Bayona falls into some manipulative traps, a weird dream sequence near the ending, which re-iterates exactly what happened to Watts’ character, is unnecessary, and the swelling score is a tad overbearing at times.
It was a risk tackling this tragedy and recreating the catastrophe for the screen, but I found this film to be grueling but uplifting experience and was impressed that the filmmakers didn’t lose sight of the universality of the ordeal. The technical achievements leave an impression, as do the convincing performances. The Impossible is worth your time. I felt genuine emotion and immense sadness for the families whose lives were torn apart by this unfortunate event.
[rating=3] and a half
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22
Andy Buckle is a passionate Sydney-based film enthusiast and reviewer who has built a respected online voice at his personal blog, The Film Emporium. Andy will contribute reviews, features and be our resident film festival, and awards expert.