The Impossible Review
2012, 107 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense realistic disaster sequences, including disturbing injury images and brief nudity
The Impossible is truly an experience to watch. It is realistic, brutal, and compelling. Director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage) has crafted a film that captures the overall sense of horror of being in a natural disaster while never straying away from his characters. The film follows a family who, when vacationing in Thailand, get separated by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
The acting in The Impossible is the high point. Naomi Watts turns in an emotional performance as Maria, the mother. While she is lying on a hospital bed for much of the film due to her wounds, her performance is powerful because it never feels anything less than real. Watts, a movie star, sheds her movie star image, as Cotillard did in Rust and Bone, to show horror and pain. Her connection with Tom Holland, who plays her eldest son, Lucas, feels genuine. While these two are only actors in a movie, they always felt like mother and son (they were separated from the rest of the family), which is a testament to the acting talents of both.
Ewan McGregor also turns in a raw performance as Henry, the father. Much of the second half of the film is devoted to him and he carries it beautifully. McGregor shows more depth in this performance than just about any other that I have seen him in. Why he isn't getting as much awards attention as Watts (she has already been nominated for a Golden Globe and SAG award for Best Actress) is beyond me.
The direction by J.A. Bayona is masterful. This is a director working in his element who has complete control over the film. Bayona bravely doesn't stint on the graphic details of the disaster, showing images of bodies, wounds, and destruction, all rendered in meticulous detail. The film, unlike many other disaster or tragic event films, shows the disaster from a ground-level human perspective, not an above-ground overview. By choosing to show the disaster from this perspective, Bayona creates an emotional connection.
The opening disaster sequence itself is one of the most vivid recreations of a disaster ever put on film. It is terrifying and looks very realistic. Again, showing it from a human point of view makes it scarier and more wrenching.
Finally, I will say that The Impossible is a manipulative film, but these manipulations are not in the least bit exploitative of the tragedy and are unavoidable. This is a film that would literally be impossible to make subtle. A film about a family separated by a disaster is going to be full of big emotions.
Overall, The Impossible is a must-see film. It is very hard to watch due to its honest and graphic recreation of the tsunami, but is a very rewarding experience. I was more moved by this film than any that has come out this year. J.A. Bayona crafted a really amazing document of one family's struggle for survival in a time of disaster. Bravo.