Directed by: Juan Antonio Bayona
Written by: Sergio G. Sánchez
Featuring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland
On December 26, 2004, most of Southeast Asia was forever changed when one of the most devastating disasters in modern times occurred: a massive tsunami tore up the coastal zones, killing over 250,000 people and displacing millions more. In the feature film The Impossible, we see one of the affected family's journey for survival in wake of this disaster.
The Impossible is the true story of Henry (Ewan McGregor) and Maria (Naomi Watts) and their three children, a Spanish family spending their Christmas at a tropical paradise resort. The story begins with them enjoying a normal Christmas, which sets up the unexpected events of the next day. Then, we are taken through the real events of that fateful December 26 almost from the direct point of view of the people it is happening to. The events of the night are told pretty much in real time, drawing the viewer in and making us feel like a participant. The second half of the film deals with the aftermath of the family's separation and their fight for survival over the following days and weeks.
This is Juan Antonio Bayona's long-awaited follow-up to 2007's incredible The Orphanage. Bayona's approach is very much like James Cameron's in Titanic as far as how he shows the disaster. He personalizes it. Rather than it being about thousands of people dying and suffering, this catastrophe becomes all about this one family's journey. Like Titanic, we know how the overall disaster will play out, but not the fates of the individual characters. Accordingly, the drama is never distant. You almost always see (especially in the first half of the film) what the main characters are seeing; therefore, you experience it as well. Besides being well directed, the film is a special effects marvel. Usually, in this day and age, I can spot all the digital effects vs. practical effects a mile away, but the work here is virtually seamless at every point of the film.
Basically, the only problem with the film is that by focusing all on a white/western family, it really takes away from the plight of the majority of the people the tragedy affected. It's a bit disappointing that the powers that be felt that, for the film to be relatable for North American audiences, it had to focus on a European family. Having said that, Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor do give excellent performances, so this transgression is somewhat forgivable. The real star is newcomer Tom Holland, who plays Lucas. Lucas and his mother are separated early in the film, so much of the screen time is between Holland and Watts alone and Holland does an excellent job of holding his piece of the screen. He manages to be strong and heroic but still conveys the confusion and tension that comes with being a preteen.
A movie like The Impossible is often labeled as "Oscar bait," a term that refers to a film released at this time of year in hopes of getting Academy Award nominations, which in turn can lead to better box office receipts. But The Impossible was only nominated for one award (Best Actress for Naomi Watts), so there's a real danger that it might fall through the cracks. This is a shame because The Impossible is well worth seeing, and with its impressive special effects it really needs to be viewed on the big screen. See it while you can.