Review by The Isolated Moviegoer:
Now a largely forgotten tragedy, the tsunami that ravaged the Indian Ocean region over the Christmas 2004 holiday rocked the lives of numerous locals and sent tourists scrambling in a foreign land. Juan Antonio Bayona’s The Impossible examines one such vacationing family, hitting the spectacular thrills expected of a disaster film while balancing itself with a fierce story of survival and love. Based on one of the many true struggles from those harrowing days, it’s a triumphant work that, despite its inherent predictability, milks its tale of resilience down to the last ounce.
In profiling Maria (Naomi Watts), Henry (Ewan McGregor), and their three sons as they vacation at a pristine Thai resort, a strong family bond is established early on. These are friendly, loving people, attempting to escape worldly pressures for a few days amidst picturesque tropical scenery. The boys laugh and play with their parents, engaging in innocent pursuits around the luxurious grounds, and it’s clear that they’re mom’s and dad’s top priority. Affinity for these decent souls firmly in place, such scenes of happiness serve as stark reminders of the good life, memories that become increasingly important beacons of hope once the family’s circumstances dramatically change.
Creator of the revered Spanish horror film The Orphanage, Bayona again proves a gifted purveyor suspense, this time doling out real-life terror. With the tsunami a looming threat, the initial placid scenes carry an underlying sense of dread as, at any moment, destruction could strike. Once the giant waves do descend upon the resort, their impact is executed with a ferocity that, considering its genuine basis, far exceeds that of any fictional disaster. Following Maria and her oldest son Lucas (Tom Holland) as they’re helplessly carried by the current, panic reaches suffocating levels, and with each gasp for breath and bodily carom off unyielding debris, fear for their survival escalates.
Determined to find his wife and son, Henry traverses the decimated landscape, one so deliberately recreated that it cries out for a behind-the-scenes DVD feature to see how it was pulled off. His younger sons safely in his care, this shell-shocked father wades through muck and picks apart shattered structures with heartbreaking dedication while his targets brave a new set of obstacles in an overcrowded hospital. As their paths grow closer to intersecting among the aftermath’s chaos, each family member encounters his or her share of aid, but it’s when our heroes act in kind that The Impossible achieves its greatest emotional highs. Bayona plays up these feel-good moments well, and with heartfelt turns from Watts, McGregor, and newcomer Holland, anything less than the inevitable happy ending would be more tragic than the natural disaster itself.
The cleanliness with which the conclusion falls into place, however, keeps The Impossible from being more than a well-constructed mini-epic. Despite its intricate production design and considerable (yet steadily evaporating) doubt cast on the family’s reconciliation, the film is ultimately little more than a high-stakes Disney adventure, though a pretty great one at that.
Rated PG-13 for intense realistic disaster sequences, including disturbing injury images and brief nudity.
The Impossible is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.
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