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A Family Divided: This True Life Disaster Drama Serves Up An Emotional Gut Punch
on February 21, 2013
Going into a movie like "The Impossible," I knew exactly what to expect. Based on the real life experiences of Maria Belon (who takes a story credit) and her family, the film focuses on the harrowing tsunami that devastated Thailand in 2004. "The Impossible" never attempts to be anything more than it is and that is much to its credit. In a waking nightmare, the simple story highlights one family affected by the trauma. Separated, injured, and scared beyond belief, it recounts the struggle to stay alive and the quest to reconnect. This is NOT a film about plot, however, for the outcome is predetermined (and pretty much given away in the marketing even if you haven't heard any peripheral information). This is solely about the journey. And with a handful of remarkable performances and with sweeping effects, the movie works on an entirely visceral level that is likely to leave you emotionally drained. While perhaps not perfect, it is a gut wrenching experience that is hard to shake.
Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor step into the primary roles despite the fact that the real life Belons were from Spain. In fact, this is the first English language film by respected Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage). Nationality differences aside, Bayona has crafted a movie with universal appeal. The love of family crosses all cultural borders, and the heart of the screenplay recognizes this with unwavering clarity. Watts and McGregor are enjoying Christmas with their three sons at a posh seaside resort as the film opens. Truthfully, we don't get to know too much about the clan. They are painted in fairly broad strokes as a perfect little family unit. But their idyllic holiday is cut short one morning as a tsunami rips across the country. The remainder of the film plays out as a story of survival, hope and perseverance. I don't really need to divulge more than that other than to say I was completely swept up in this aftermath.
Watts (an Oscar nominee here) opens herself fully to the emotional strength of a mother attempting to protect her brood even if she's no longer capable of taking care of herself. McGregor is terrific, as well, forging ahead with dogged determination. A long time fan, this is one of his more satisfying roles of late. But perhaps the unsung star of the piece is young Tom Holland. Playing the eldest son, Holland has perhaps the biggest and most complex role as this event has thrust him into new responsibilities. In my opinion, Holland should have been invited to awards season for his well rounded and dynamic work! Another real star of "The Impossible," though, are its incredible effects and production design. The realism of the tsunami and its devastation is integral to the story and it is handled expertly. There are literally moments that I won't soon forget!
Even though I knew the outcome, I was wholeheartedly invested in following "The Impossible" to the end. At times, it borders on melodrama (especially in the final scenes) and it might have used some more in-depth characterization. But as an emotional experience, this film punched me in the gut and never let go. And if a movie can truly move me (I'm pretty jaded and hard hearted), it earns high marks in my book. An intensely satisfying epic, I really connected to this one. About 4 1/2 stars, I'll round up for Holland's star making turn. KGHarris, 2/13.