The Impossible (2012)

Director:  Juan Antonio Bayona
Cast:  Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland
Plot:  An account of a family caught, with tens of thousands of strangers, in the mayhem of one of the worst natural catastrophes of our time.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Leading Actress.
Runtime:  114min
Rating:  PG13 for intense realistic disaster sequences, including disturbing injury images and brief nudity.
International Sales:  Summit Entertainment
Singapore Distributor:  Shaw Organsation

Juan Antonio Bayona made a splash with his horror film, The Orphanage (2007), a few years ago. It was one of the most effectively creepy horror dramas of the last five years. The promising Spanish director's next project, The Impossible, could not have been more different. Centering on a family torn apart by the vicious 2004 Boxing Day tsunami that swept relentlessly across Southeast Asia, the film gives a firsthand look at the disaster via the struggles of this family.

Based on a true story, this account is both heartbreaking and life-affirming at the same time, as it washes over you the myriad of emotions that the power of film imagery so readily obliges. Betsy Sharkey of L.A. Times describes Bayona as achieving “a rare sense of balance of between the big and the powerful as well as the small and intimate in the family’s survival against impossible odds.”

The Impossible stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor as a loving couple who brings their three kids over to a coastal town in Thailand for a Christmas holiday. Their performances are good but not great, with Watts coming closest to delivering a performance worthy of consideration for an Oscar nomination. To be honest, Tom Holland gives the most memorable performance in the film, playing the eldest brother with a mix of youthful energy and tenacity.

Bayona sweeps you away with the stark portrayal of survival and the fragility of the human condition. There are numerous wide shots of the scale of the destruction, with the waves generated by a mix of practical and CG-effects. Like Life of Pi (2012), many of the water scenes are shot in a huge water tank that can simulate waves. The result is perhaps the most realistic re-creation of the disaster and its aftermath ever.

The focus is on its aftermath, thankfully, as Bayona shifts the drama expertly from the grounded spectacle that is the first act, to the rescue and medical care afforded by local hospitals that make up the rest of the film. The Impossible is not so much a film about the triumph of the human spirit as it is about the resilience that comes out of that triumph.

It is not a must-watch, but if you ever need a dose of inspiration, Bayona’s film may just provide you with that timely boost. It is a film that celebrates life amid death, hope amid loss, and above all else, the taming of an incomprehensible natural disaster through human selflessness and courage. Well-directed by Bayona, the film also sees him managing to audaciously pull off a horror visual motif shot during a dream sequence that true horror film buffs would dig.

Verdict:  A disaster film with a strong, emotional center that celebrates resilience through the triumph of the human spirit.


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