The Impossible


Ewan McGregor as Henry
Naomi Watts as Maria
Tom Holland as Lucas
Ploy Jindachote as Caregiver
Marta Etura as Simone
Oaklee Pendergast as Simon
Samuel Joslin as Thomas
Philippe Durand as Shanque
Geraldine Chaplin as Old Woman

Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona

An inspiring story, identifiable characters, and a spectacular tsunami scene make “The Impossible” an impressive and memorable disaster movie.

“The Impossible” is based on a true story.

On Christmas 2004, Maria, Henry, and their three young sons go to Thailand for vacation. They plan to relax at a luxury resort with other foreign tourists, but as Maria and Henry play by the swimming pool with their boys, a wall of sea water unexpectedly rushes towards them. It obliterates everything in its path and in a heartbeat the family goes from peace to a desperate struggle for survival.

“The Impossible” is rated PG-13 for intense realistic disaster sequences, including disturbing injury images and brief nudity.

What Worked:
Like many of you, I was familiar with the death and destruction of the 2004 tsunami. It was a horrific real world disaster and I didn’t have a particular desire to revisit it. But I watched “The Impossible” anyway and I was glad I did. In many respects it’s your standard disaster movie – people are living their everyday lives when some tragic natural or manmade disaster hits, then their true colors emerge as they deal with the aftermath. In that respect, “The Impossible” isn’t particularly innovative, but where it sets itself apart is how it uniquely deals with the disaster movie formula.

First of all, the film centers around an individual family. The story is told from the perspective of the mother, father, and oldest son. This allows the audience to easily connect with a character they identify with. I connected with the father since I have a family of my own. I completely understood his frantic search for his wife and kids in the aftermath. Mothers will connect with Maria and her drive to put the needs of her son above her own, even as she’s terribly wounded. Any kids watching this film will connect with Lucas as he’s suddenly transformed from surly teen to the protector of his family. So no matter where you are in life, you’ll find yourself identifying with a member of this family and wondering what you would do if you were thrown into their situation. The end result is a very engaging story.

Second, “The Impossible” very effectively coveys good messages. There’s a scene where Lucas and a terribly hurt Maria are trying to make it to higher ground before another tsunami hits. They hear a child crying somewhere amid the debris, but Lucas insists that they continue on and save themselves. Maria stops him, looks him in the eye, and tells him that they’re going to help the child even if it’s the last thing they ever do. It’s a very powerful moment between the mother and son. One of the points of a disaster film is for character to show their true colors amid a crisis, and that scene says it all.

While the characters and story are great, “The Impossible” is going to be best remembered for its tsunami scene. All sorts of movies have destroyed the world this summer, but none of them have the impact of this scene of death and destruction. Director Juan Antonio Bayona plays with sound and light to make you feel like you’re being swept away in the water along with the characters. And this isn’t like a fun ride at the water park. Maria and Lucas are battered, impaled, scraped, and cut in ways that make you gasp and cringe. This is as close as anyone will want to get to a real tsunami. It’s an impressive scene.

The acting in “The Impossible” is excellent. Naomi Watts is one of my favorite actresses and she does a fantastic job here. She perfectly portrays Maria’s spirit of putting her children’s needs above her own. Ewan McGregor is also excellent as Henry. Whether Henry is leisurely playing with his sons or frantically searching for them through debris, he’s equally convincing. But this is really a breakout role for Tom Holland as Lucas. He has a great transition from boy to man over the course of the story. I was really reminded of a young Christian Bale in “Empire of the Sun.”

What Didn’t Work:
While I wasn’t familiar with the real life story of the Spanish family this was based on, I felt the title kind of gave away the ending. But that being said, I’ve spoken to several friends and family that didn’t think it gave anything away, so maybe I’m off base.

I’ve also heard fellow film critics accuse the film of being “white washed.” They felt it focused too much on just the white people in the tsunami and not the local Thai people who were equally affected. While I see their point, I disagree. This film focuses on just this particular family. To focus on other characters would have diluted their story and made it less effective. And from a practical sense, this story focuses on foreign tourists at a resort for foreigners. The main place they would have seen locals were amid the rescuers and at the hospital, and I feel like they were fairly represented there. So this was not something I would knock “The Impossible” for.

What I can knock “The Impossible” for is the arrangement of the storytelling. During the last 1/3 or so of the movie, the audience is already several steps ahead of the characters in the story. We know who survived and who did not while the characters still frantically rush around looking for each other. So it becomes a bit anti-climactic as the survivors are reunited. How would you resolve this in the script? I don’t really know, but it does take away from the experience somewhat.

The Bottom Line:
If you’re into disaster movies or if you’re a fan of McGregor and Watts, then “The Impossible” is a film you’re going to want to check out. It’s the kind of movie that makes you go and hug your kids a little more after seeing it.