by Ken B.
Whenever a large scale event occurs, countless stories come into existence from those involved. They widely vary in their content, their background, and their future. When one is adapted, whether it be a book, movie, or something else, examples of ordinary people in extraordinary situations are widely distributed, usually with the hope that a message will be taken from it. The Impossible tells the story of a family involved in the devastating December 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean that killed over 200,000 people. The result is a very emotional and mostly effective drama.
J.A. Bayona’s film focuses on the Bennetts, a family who travels to a Thailand resort over the Christmas holidays in 2004. The group consists of parents Henry (Ewan McGregor) and Maria (Naomi Watts) with their three sons, Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin), and Simon (Oaklee Penderghast). While they’re at the resort’s pool on December 26, the ground starts to shake. As everyone around starts to look up, a large and fast moving wall of water destroys everything in its path, eventually reaching the area. The family is separated, with Lucas and Maria unaware of the location and condition of Henry, Thomas, and Simon, and vice versa. Maria, severely injured and loosing blood, is taken to a makeshift hospital where her condition fluctuates, usually not for the better. The rest of the film focuses on the rest of the family, as they cope with their situation, and the mission to reunite.
An odd thing I noticed about The Impossible is the nationality of its main characters. The surname of the family this story is based on is Belón, and they are from Spain. The director of the film is from Spain. The screenwriter is from Spain. The movie was filmed in Spain. However, the family depicted in the film is British. I am not calling racism, as some have, as I do not believe it is so. I am simply relaying my confusion. Director Bayona says that no nationality in particular should be referred to, but his film does not tell the same story, with the Australian Watts and the Scottish McGregor putting on standardized and generic English accents. I am told that María Belón specifically requested that Watts portray her, which may partially explain this, but still leaves the accent question unanswered.
Brushing those minor aspects aside, there are indisputable positives. There is some fine acting on display in The Impossible, especially from Naomi Watts. In the initial scenes following the tsunami, she is thrown about in the obstacle laden waves, flooding land at an alarming rate. Her character’s fear is felt, along with the underlying will to persevere at all costs. And yet, there is an equal if not superior performance to be had from Tom Holland. As 12 year old Lucas Bennett, a sense of confusion mixed with determination is displayed perfectly in a very commendable performance. Ewan McGregor must also be praised, as a father and husband desperately trying to ensure safety for his two younger children while frustratingly unaware of the whereabouts of his wife and older son.
The Impossible’s main crippling point is its screenplay, which at times feels a bit messy, and suffers from poor pacing, making the movie’s 114 minute runtime feel a lot longer. The best moments in the film are usually not credible to the writing alone, and are at least partially attributable to the above mentioned outstanding performances, or exterior factors such as the swelling musical score from Fernando Velázquez, string heavy and close to operatic at times. Early on, another valuable asset is the visual effects during the tsunami, which were largely done without the use of CGI and is wholly convincing in its own right. Characters are tossed around in waves like ragdolls, and the film does a good job of placing the viewer in that setting.
The Impossible represents a very effective character drama in the background of overwhelming disaster. Screenplay and pacing qualms aside, this is still a highly recommendable and regularly gripping film. With strong performances, engrossing visuals, and powerful themes arching throughout, only the most hardened individuals would fail to be moved by what is eventually accomplished.