Monday, January 14, 2013

The Impossible

THE IMPOSSIBLE (Juan Antonio Bayona, 2012)

THE IMPOSSIBLE dramatizes one incredible true story to emerge from the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, the deadliest natural disaster of its kind on record.  Like many others, Henry and Maria Bennett (Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts) and their three boys have come to Khao Lak, Thailand for Christmas vacation.  They’re relaxing by the resort’s pool when the tsunami hits the southeast Asian coast.

Maria and her oldest son Lucas (Tom Holland) surface from the floodwater near each other.  He’s scraped up but otherwise in good shape.  She’s received large wounds in her leg and side but, with her son’s assistance, is able to hobble to the safety of a tree. They suspect the rest of their family is dead.  Their own survival is also a question.

Some locals eventually discover them and provide help.  Maria is taken to the hospital, but her injuries and a staff overwhelmed by the number of patients mean that she’s far from being in the clear.


Director Juan Antonio Bayona stages the tsunami as though an enormous monster has risen from the ocean.  The birds are spooked, and in the distance trees in its path are toppled like blades of grass by a lawnmower.  Then the wave spills into the resort, casting people aside like rag dolls and smashing the buildings.  In the even more terrifying sequence that follows, survivors are desperate to keep their heads above water while being swept across the flooded landscape.  Potentially dangerous obstacles bob along the surface while even more hide below.  With heart-stopping immediacy, Bayona plunges into the midst of the disaster while making it seem unimaginable that anyone could make it out alive if near the shore when the giant wave first reaches land.

The challenges in the disaster’s aftermath are anything but minor, yet once the survivors reach safe ground, THE IMPOSSIBLE loses dramatic urgency.  For as tragic and horrific an event as this was, the Bennetts have a relatively easy time of it in retrospect. At least that’s how the screenplay frames their experiences, especially in comparison to the hardships of their fellow tourists and the mostly ignored Thai residents.  The post-tsunami period brings chaos of a different kind, but the protagonists manage to navigate it as though it’s but an inconvenience.

Few actresses suffer as expressively on screen as Watts.  In THE IMPOSSIBLE she beautifully conveys a mother’s will to endure her suffering for the sake of those she loves.  Holland does good work as a kid who is forced to be strong in an unthinkable situation.  THE IMPOSSIBLE doesn’t turn a blind eye to the physical and emotional devastation, but the comparatively uncomplicated path it follows to arrive at a reassuring conclusion minimizes the impact.

Grade: C+

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