- Rated PG-13
All photos © Summit Entertainment
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
t’s astonishing to think that it’s been eight years since Southeast Asia was rocked by the Indian Ocean tsunami, because it feels like it happened just yesterday. Though there have been several other high-profile natural disasters in that time (including Hurricane Katrina and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that crippled Japan), none of them are quite as unforgettable as the devastation that took place in 2004, particularly due to the many amazing stories of courage and selflessness that were born from one of the deadliest natural disasters in history. One such story serves as the basis of Juan Antonio Bayona’s “The Impossible,” an incredibly realistic disaster movie that doesn't shy away from the real-life horrors of the storm.
Henry Bennett (Ewan McGregor) and his wife Maria (Naomi Watts) have taken their three sons to Thailand for Christmas at the beautiful Khao Lak resort. After opening some presents on the morning of December 26th, the family heads down to the pool to relax and have fun, only for their vacation to be interrupted by a massive wave that punches its way through the area like a battering ram. When Maria emerges from the water, she’s quickly reunited with eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland), who was also carried away by the wave. Though Maria is seriously injured, the pair manages to make their way to safety where they’re taken to the nearest hospital by some locals in order to get Maria the proper medical attention before she dies. Lucas believes that his father and two brothers (Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast) were killed during the initial wave, but what he doesn’t know is that they also survived the tsunami and are desperately searching the country for any news on their whereabouts.
Based on the true life story of the Alvarez-Belon family – who were separated by the 2004 tsunami, only to overcome impossible odds and be miraculously reunited – “The Impossible” is the kind of movie that you could walk into already knowing how it ends and it wouldn't make the events any less incredible to watch. Though Juan Antonio Bayona’s directorial debut “The Orphanage” failed to impress me as much as others, he’s followed it up with a stunning sophomore effort that blends physical filmmaking with raw emotion. The tsunami sequence is a remarkable technical achievement that perfectly captures the danger and desperation Maria and Lucas are experiencing, and the scenes that follow are some of the most intense of any movie released this year. “The Impossible” might sound like your run-of-the-mill inspirational drama on paper, but it’s pretty harrowing stuff, and perhaps even a little too graphic for the faint of heart.
It’s hard to imagine the film having as much emotional heft without its excellent cast. Naomi Watts delivers one of the best performances of her career as a helpless woman desperately clinging to life, while Ewan McGregor is also good as a parent struggling to hold himself together for the sake of his two sons. (His phone call to Maria’s father is the most heartbreaking moment in the film). The real revelation, however, is newcomer Tom Holland as the brave and mature Lucas, and in a year filled with many great child performances, it’s quite possibly the best of the bunch. Some people will protest about the white-washing of the family’s race, but surely the Spanish-born Bayona had a good reason for the change, and even if he didn’t, it’s a pretty minor complaint for such a great movie. “The Impossible” is not only an extremely well-made survival thriller, but a poignant celebration of the human spirit, and it deserves to be seen on the big screen.