“I’m a doctor. I’m not practicing right now. Just taking care of the kids.”
The emotive story of human tragedy is at the heart of Bayona’s The Impossible, which means that the infamous 2004 tsunami itself acts more as a catalyst for events, rather than the lead role in a popcorn disaster movie. This may disappoint some, and perhaps it was the thriller fan in my that sadistically yearned for excitement during the film’s quieter moments, but by the end I had to give credit to an extremely direct account of one family literally torn apart by one of the worst natural disasters in living memory.
Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts play Henry and Maria Bennett, who are spending Christmas at a resort in Khao Lak when the tsunami strikes. The true story itself is actually based on the accounts of a Spanish family, the Alvarez Belons, but was transferred to English speaking actors in order to target a wider audience. But that does not mean that the Orphanage director does not stamp his own mark on the movie, and there is a certain class to much of the film that reaches beyond a simply re-enactment.
The entire opening disaster scene is so impressive for its realism, and again credit must be given to all involved for not just keeping the action purely from the family’s perspective (it must have been very tempting to do the usual disaster trope of flicking to the earthquake underwater before hand), but also using real water delicately mixed with the odd CGI enhancements. As Maria and her son Lucas (played by the fantastic Tom Holland) are swept away by the waves, the two engage in an emotional battle, which draws them together in a way that only a crisis can. Holland’s refusal to see his mother’s wounds, despite his bravery in the face of danger, is a stark and realistic reminder of both the fragility and strength that is integral to the human condition, especially during a disaster.
Although Watts is incredible as the horrifically battered mother, and both Holland and McGregor give top performances, especially Holland’s almost shell shocked demeanour and appearance, there does seem to be a fairly methodical mission to the story, that would have benefited from a slight step away from the family perspective. Again, the purpose of the film must take precedence, but does the viewer not deserve to have their own limits of imagination pushed? Instead, as realistic and thought provoking as some of the direction is, the film never really steps outside of its comfort zone.
Thankfully, just as my fondness for the film began to waver toward the end, we are treated to a mind-blowing sequence as Watts is put to sleep for an operation and begins to process the traumatic events of the disaster. Here, Bayona’s artful direction is put on show with stunning underwater visuals that take the breath away. This rounds the film off and brings it full circle, which for me makes it not just a fantastic looking film with top performances, but also a well structured, if slightly uneventful affair.
Shapstik Verdict: The Impossible is a film more deserving for acting credit and cinematography, than it is for slick direction and storyline. But this should not stop the film’s adherence to the perspective of tragedy, striking home to most viewers and reminding them of the human impact of this terrible disaster. 7/10