2012, 114mins, 12
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Writer: Sergio G. Sanchez
Cast includes: Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Marta Etura
UK Release Date: 1st January 2013
Back in 2008 Juan Antonio Bayona made a fantastic feature debut with “The Orphanage”, a creepy Spanish language flick that combined chills and heartfelt emotion deftly. His sophomore effort “The Impossible” has been a long time coming, the director selecting a tough subject matter for his sophomore gig behind the camera. Retelling the true story of a family caught in the middle of the 2004 Thai tsunami, “The Impossible” risks multiple trappings that often snare worthy Oscar contenders, but its director’s skillset ensures the film largely bypasses the potential weaknesses. It’s a brilliantly acted and consistently intense affair, at least for the largely faultless first half. The film does become patchier as it trundles toward its denouement, but ultimately there’s enough richness in the characterization and devastation for the picture to hit a pleasingly honest mark.
Maria (Naomi Watts) and Henry (Ewan McGregor) are taking their family to Thailand for the Christmas period, hoping to enjoy a festive season complete with unflinching sunshine and exotic beaches. Arriving on Christmas Eve, the family rejoice through the 25th, savouring their time together in the island paradise. However, on Boxing Day a massive Tsunami crashes into their resort, leaving them separated and facing one of the nastiest natural disasters of modern times. Teenager Lucas (Tom Holland) and a wounded Maria are able to band together, whilst Henry is left guarding the younger boys. It quickly becomes a battle against the elements, as the family are faced with insurmountable odds in their attempts to gain medical attention and more importantly to be safely reunited.
Essentially “The Impossible” plays as a triumph of human spirit, the fact it is obviously based on a “true story” helping to highlight large chunks of the film’s outcome. The screenplay by Sergio G. Sanchez invests most of its time illustrating character development and inspecting inter-family dynamics, a wise move given that vast sympathy for the protagonists is integral to the movie’s success. The three major figures (Maria, Lucas and Henry) are all well formed on the page, and consequently brought fantastically to life by the respective acting talent. McGregor and Watts (who should at least score some nominations for her frazzled work) are dependably strong, but the real showstopper is young Tom Holland as their surly son Lucas. Holland manages to imbue the superficially brave teen with genuine angst and personality, turning potentially rusty mother/son moments of intimacy into legitimately affecting sequences. His fear is palpable and it translates nicely over to the viewership.
Bayona proves more than capable at whipping up frenzy and panic on the big screen. The scene in which the tsunami impacts is far removed from the quiet dread of “The Orphanage”, but the film-maker doesn’t stammer, using ferocious sound design and kinetic shot construction to purposefully showcase the trauma wrought by the catastrophe. The film’s first half plays like a rough and ready survivalist picture, pitting the characters against harshly depicted conditions and an impending sense of tragedy, cooking up gripping tension in the process. Bayona excels here, which may explain why the broad emotional beats of later on feel less successful. Thanks to the performances there’s an authenticity to the familial undercurrents and worries that populate the feature, but some facets (a small supporting character reappearing, a grief-stricken father teaming up with McGregor) ring hollow.
Visually the picture is lush but the musical soundtrack supplied by Fernando Velazquez disappoints. It’s a blandly pieced together score that includes too many predictable swooning and sappy melodies; motifs that become overwhelming during the picture’s subtler scenes of strife and concern. It’s the only part of this movie that feels deliberately Oscar-baiting, cheapening the product notably as a consequence. The editing whilst seamless from an aesthetic standpoint could’ve been sharpened from a storytelling perspective, the final 30 minutes lagging frustratingly. “The Impossible” does climax with a satisfying and uplifting conclusion, but the journey to get there might’ve been shorter had more precision been applied to the flabby final act.
“The Impossible” is a less distinctive effort than “The Orphanage”, albeit not a bad first stab at Hollywood from the foreign language darling. There are problems, but on the whole Bayona has acquitted himself acceptably here, paying honourable homage to the tragedy and confirming his identity as a talented visual wordsmith. On a final note, the picture has accrued a 12a rating in the UK (PG-13 stateside), something of a mystery given the aggressive acts of violence seen throughout. Be careful about bringing very young children to this one, because the film-makers have certifiably concocted a disturbing incarnation of the events.
A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2012