The devastating Indian Ocean tsunami that struck on Boxing Day 2004 was one of the most horrifying natural disasters in recent history, taking the lives of many and impacting the lives of many more. Spanish director Bayona and screenwriter Sergio Sánchez of The Orphanage fame have re-teamed to tell the true story of one family’s harrowing experience of the event.
Henry Bennett (McGregor), his wife Maria (Watts) and their sons Lucas (Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast) have travelled to the resort town of Khao Lak, Thailand for an idyllic tropical Christmas holiday. Their family vacation is violently cut short by the tsunami, which hits their resort head-on. The film follows Henry, Maria and their children as they search desperately for each other in the aftermath of the disaster.
Director Bayona has crafted a powerful, emotional film that allows audiences to witness the horror that nature can wield and the triumph of family and the human spirit at the same time. Focusing on a single family caught in the midst of the madness lends the story an honest intimacy, and Bayona has carefully re-constructed the background against which it unfolds. The scene of the tsunami surging aground and demolishing everything in its path is gut-wrenchingly realistic; the ravaged landscape left in its wake meticulously re-created. There is a very effective use of sound, and Bayona certainly has an eye for haunting images.
This must have been a difficult film, both emotionally and physically, for the actors to undertake, and McGregor and Watts have bravely risen to the challenge, tossing aside Hollywood superficiality to appear truly bloodied, bruised and broken. Watts is breathtakingly vulnerable, painful-looking makeup effects assisting her portrayal of the badly-injured Maria, whose duties as a mother are always a priority – the Best Actress Oscar nomination is much-deserved. McGregor does the “everyday hero” thing convincingly, making it easy to identify with the father’s quest Henry undertakes, and Holland shines as their oldest son.
On the internet, the film has been the target of accusations of racism, some up in arms over the fact that it focuses on a Caucasian family when the tsunami happened in Asia. It is this reviewer’s opinion that this is a trite point to make, and even though the real-life Belon family was Spanish and McGregor, Watts and the other actors aren’t, it takes nothing away from their portrayal. The filmmakers had intended the family onscreen to be kind of universal, and that’s what has been achieved.
Unlike most disaster movies, The Impossible doesn’t revel in the carnage wrought and strikes a masterful balance between the sensitive and the visceral. It’s devoid of the maudlin, overwrought melodramatics of Roland Emmerich-esque blockbusters, and is a worthy picture that, cheesy though it may sound, will probably make you hug your loved ones a wee bit tighter afterwards.
SUMMARY: A moving, well-told story of survival and familial bonds, equal parts heartbreaking and uplifting.