Title: The Impossible
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Screenwriter: Sergio G. Sánchez
Cast: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Oaklee Pendergast, Samuel Joslin, Geraldine Chaplin, Marta Etura, Simon Blyberg
Screened at: Park Avenue, NYC, 11/13/12
Opens: December 21, 2012
Hell hath no fury like Mother Nature. What is natural is not always healthy or benign but can be downright tragic. Those of us affected recently by Hurricane Sandy, another of Nature’s calls, should be content that we did not suffer one hundredth of the hurt that affected hundreds of thousands of people in 2004, as the greatest natural tragedy in Thailand’s history bore down on people of that country, Indonesia, India and even parts of Africa.
To demonstrate with a resonant narrative what it is like to live near the center of a tsunami, director Juan Antonio Bayona, using Sergio G. Sánchez’s screenplay, focuses on a single family, whose injuries, both psychic and physical, may remind us of the after-effects of 9/11 in New York. Though photographing a resort area in Thailand with some crane shots to show the macro effects of the raging storm, Bayona—in this Spanish-produced movie in the English language—focuses on a British-born executive working in Japan and taking a vacation in Thailand with his wife and family.
The impact is different from what an audience might experience in an apocalyptic fantasy, a popular genre that often goes over the top to portray survivors as cannibals and zombies. Instead, Bayona wants us to see what it’s like in utter reality to face a tsunami without warning on a sunny day just after Christmas when waves as high as 98 feet engulf the land, causing traumatic injury and death to tens of thousands. The special effects are awesome, as you might expect, not unlike what Clint Eastwood captured in the film “Hereafter,” with our sympathies are directed most specifically to four vacationers. They are María (Naomi Watts), her husband Henry (Ewan McGregor), and their three boys Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast). Lucas is put in charge of his youngers sibs.
We watch María trying to avoid drowning by desperately holding on to tree branches in the water. She survives but sustains injuries so severe that she spends most of the story in a hospital bed attached to oxygen, worried that if her leg turns black it would have to be amputated. For his part Henry becomes separated from his wife while Lucas, previously involved with the typical arguments with siblings that ten-year-olds enjoy, turns into the family man, watching over the bloodied injuries of his mom, taking in the doings of the hospital staff—which, impressively, turns out to care for the injured and dying, even performing surgery despite the makeshift accommodations of the area.
The star of the show is Tom Holland in the role of Lucas, who becomes a man virtually overnight while caring for his mother, making sure that she is not overly worried by her injuries and overwhelmed by thoughts that her husband and her other two boys may be dead. Though the movie could be thought of as the type of fare that Steven Spielberg would direct—not “Lincoln,” but rather “Jaws” or “Amistad”—the audience response would be more restrained. We might find ourselves reminiscing about the signs that appeared around New York after 9-11 asking people whether they have seen missing people, more insightful about what it’s like to feel as though you drowning or worrying about what might happy to your body under surgical knives of people in a remote nation. Fernando Velazquez’s music soars, Oscar Faura’s camera captures moments of high drama, but with little humor, “The Impossible” becomes a film that might be respected more than loved. Filming took place in Thailand and in Spanish cities of Alicante, Ciudad de la Luz, and Madrid.
Rated PG13. 114 minutes © 2012 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – C
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B