Sunday, April 07, 2013

The Impossible

movie review: in the picture

The Impossible ***

Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast, Sönke Möhring, and Geraldine Chaplin
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Tagline: Nothing is more powerful than the human spirit.

Spanish physician María Belón, her husband, and their three sons were on holiday at a resort in Thailand when the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami struck Southeast Asia. Their story inspires The Impossible, a heart wrenching tale of struggle and survival in the aftermath of a devastating natural disaster.

We meet the Bennet family - Maria (Naomi Watts), Henry (Ewan McGregor), and their three boys, Lucas (Tom Holland), Simon (Oaklee Pendergast), and Thomas (Samuel Joslin) - as they set off on their retreat, arriving in Khao Lak for their Christmas vacation. As they enjoy themselves by the resort's pool, the tsunami strikes, sweeping them away. Separated and unsure if they will ever see each other again, the battered and bruised family members struggle to survive in the chaotic aftermath of the disaster while searching for each other.

Naomi Watts impresses as Maria, the role for which she received an Academy Award nomination, and young Tom Holland delivers a terrific performance as her eldest son Lucas, as he tries to cope with the unthinkable situation that he finds himself in. But perhaps the most impressive element of the film is the technical execution and presentation of the tsunami. As a harrowing wave takes over the landscape, engulfing everything in its path, the effect is absolutely terrifying, and the horror that overwhelms the resort is palpable.

The human drama, however, is far less compelling. The Impossible obviously aims to communicate the strength of a family's bond, the spirit of perseverance, and how tragedy brings people together. But in effect, the proceedings seem myopic and clichéd. The disaster, one of the deadliest calamities in history, claimed nearly 250,000 lives, and there are certainly thousands of harrowing, inspiring tales of survivors and survival in its aftermath. It is confusing why the filmmakers chose to focus on this particular family, why their nationality was changed (a number of high profile Hispanic actors could have been considered for the lead roles), and why everyone else - including the other tourists who suffered hardships and lost their loved ones, and especially the locals who were absolutely devastated by the tsunami - was relegated to the background. Wouldn't showcasing the plight of the locals who lost everything have made a more powerful and lasting impact? Yes, this one family's ordeal was extremely terrifying, and the viewer does get swept away by the emotional onslaught of the movie, but ultimately it's the film's narrow focus that feels thoroughly unsatisfying.

Also, it is better to go in not knowing how the family members fared, as a degree of the suspense is lost if you know how things eventually turned out for them.

Still, The Impossible displays the skills of a director who can create an impressive cinematic tapestry and tug at his audience's heartstrings. The tsunami sequence is extremely well shot, the proceedings are moving, and the acting is top notch. And as you would expect based on its subject matter, the film can be very hard, and even uncomfortable, to watch. But clichés do creep in as the film trudges on, and it does not attempt to thoroughly capture the magnitude of the destruction. On the whole, The Impossible presents a narrow but terrifying look at a massive disaster through the eyes of a family of tourists, and it is hard not to be affected by it.

- Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 7th April, 2013

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