The Impossible * * * *
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona.
Screenplay: Sergio G. Sanchez.
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast, Marta Etura, Sönke Möhring, Johan Sundberg, Jan Roland Sundberg, Geraldine Chaplin.
One of the very best of recent horror movies was “The Orphanage“, released in 2007. As part of it’s marketing campaign it was executive produced by the familiar name of Guillermo del Toro (“Pan’s Labyrinth“). Of course, del Toro wasn’t the creative mind behind the film – little known, Spanish director, Juan Antonio Bayona was. With this follow-up Bayona tackles an altogether different horror in the shape of one the world’s worst natural disasters: that of the Pacific Basin Tsunami of 2004.
Maria (Naomi Watts) and Henry (Ewan McGregor) are a British couple who takes their three sons on a Christmas family holiday to Thailand. Their idyllic setting is soon torn apart when a powerful and deadly tsunami rips through the beach resort. Maria and the eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland) manage to struggle to safety but Henry and the younger boys are separated, leaving them fighting for survival and unaware of each others’ fate.
Bayona starts his film off gently, as he introduces the quaint British family going about their holiday with love and enthusiasm. He takes little time in establishing his characters but takes enough to convey them as a strong unit. When they are separated by the sheer destructive force of the Tsunami, Bayona establishes his skill and deft handling of the disaster in all it’s devastating force. It’s entirely believable and absolutely awe-inspiring as man made structures and natural habitats are swept aside like playthings. On top of this, he gives us a turbulent, first-person point of view of the confusion whilst being churned around in this tidal wave. It’s a cinematic achievement that’s nothing less than impressive. From here, it progresses into a survival story as the separated family strive to find one another and it’s at this point that the film slows down and gets in touch with it’s emotional core. I was actually surprised by it’s level of emotion but that’s not to say that I didn’t like it. It worked primarily because we can identify with these suffering individuals. This is a natural disaster that affected many throughout the world and the loss was practically incalculable. As a result, the film becomes a bit of a tearjerker and some may even claim manipulatively so. I was so unprepared that at several points, I was wondering why I had a lump in my throat and why it didn’t seem to be going away either. Quite simply, the film’s emotional power captured me and refused to let go. Of course, to make this believable, you have to look at the cast members. Each and every one of them were superb; Naomi Watts has been Oscar nominated for her turn but Ewan McGregor can count himself very unlucky not to receive similar recognition. They both deliver outstandingly strong work. Special mention must also go to Tom Holland as the eldest son, who actually carries a large amount of the film of his young shoulders. We could be witnessing the arrival of a very fine actor here. Ultimately, it’s through these performers that we invest ourselves into this tragedy. Surprisingly, the only film that I’m aware of that has touched upon this disaster is Clint Eastwood’s “Hereafter” but it didn’t deal with it to the extent and technical ability that this does.
It’s not often we get such an impressive piece of work that, so easily, tugs on the heartstrings. In fact, the last time I felt this was with Juan Antonio Bayona’s aforementioned “The Orphanage” but to capture such a disaster in all it’s ferocity, reaffirms that the impossible is not so hard to believe in contemporary cinema any more.