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 J.A. Bayona
On December 26, 2004, one of the worst tsunamis in recorded history hit South East Asia. One family vacationing in Thailand at a resort is torn apart by the tsunami crashing down upon them.
Juan Bayona’s debut “The Orphanage” helped pave the way for a new wave in Spanish genre films and knowing the plot and the premise for “The Impossible,” it’s hard to think of a movie that could be any more of a departure. Bayona proves himself up to that challenge, reassembling much of the same team to make a movie that’s far more impressive for its scale, not just in recreating tsunami-stricken Thailand, but also at creating waves of emotions that affect you as much as the death and destruction. Of course, this should be expected when you have Naomi Watts in your cast, but she’s not the only one who shines.
The opening crawl pretty much lets you know what you’re in for and that’s a really simple story of a family torn apart by the 2004 tsunami, and it makes it very clear that like so many great films it’s based on a true story. We meet the family on the airplane from Japan, where Ewan McGregor’s character works, to Thailand, where him, his wife and their three boys are vacationing at a seaside resort. The film does quick work at establishing this family and their dynamics and 15 minutes into the movie is where the giant wave rises high above the people at the resort, tearing a path through everything. It’s quite devastating to watch the tsunami play out and it feels far more realistic and less sensationalistic than the one Clint Eastwood created for “Hereafter.”
For the next hour we follow Naomi Watts’ Maria and her son Lucas (Holland) as they try to survive after the tsunami, her having been severely wounded after being dragged through trees and debris in the tide. Watts’ skill and prowess as an actor is certainly tested and proven by the way she sells the agony and pain her character endures over the course of the movie, but if “The Impossible” achieves nothing else, it will forever be remembered as the movie that marked the discovery of Tom Holland, a young actor who not only is able to hold his own again Watts, one of the strongest dramatic actors on the planet, but also is able to carry his own scenes quite ably as we watch him trying to find his family. If it’s not already obvious how Watts’ character was put through the wringer physically, then it’s reiterated in a dream-like sequence later in the film, which follows her as she’s dragged underwater by that first wave.
Roughly an hour into the movie, we learn what happened to Ewan McGregor and the other two sons, and that’s probably the weakest portion of the film. I generally have a great respect for McGregor as an actor but his performance is night and day compared to Watts and Holland, made more obvious by the amount of time we just spent with them. Things start getting a little bit too melodramatic as we get into the last act, but by that point, you’re so invested in the family you’ll forgive how many coincidences are necessary to bring them back together.
Regardless, “The Impossible” never feels like the work of a filmmaker making their second film but one from a far more experienced director, one who not only can create situations and a setting that feels real and authentic, but also one that can get astounding performances out of his actors. The production design and visual FX used to create the scale of the carnage and destruction is absolutely breathtaking, while the score by Fernando Velázquez pulls every single drop of emotion from the quieter scenes. Bayona’s use of a mostly Spanish crew to make a movie that has absolutely nothing to do with Spain is quite commendable as well.
The Bottom Line:
“The Impossible” is a fantastic sophomore effort from Juan Bayona that reaches the emotional and filmmaking heights that Spielberg and Eastwood have been trying to achieve for years.