Review: The Impossible
This film was originally reviewed as part of our TIFF 2012 coverage
REVIEW: J.A Bayona's THE IMPOSSIBLE is a film that many at TIFF likely walked into with a lot of baggage. The 2004 Tsunami is still a fresh wound in many people's minds, with well over a quarter of a million people having died, along with the unimaginable amount of displaced and broken families, who are likely still reeling from the disaster.
Bayona's film is done tastefully, so don't go in expecting a cheesy disaster movie or anything like that. THE IMPOSSIBLE is a sobering, if ultimately hopefully and life-affirming account of a real family's struggle to reunite, although the choice to give this a western perspective with a white, upper-middle class family at it's heart will likely put off some (this is Hollywood folks).
The disaster hits only ten minutes or so into the film, with only a minimum of exposition showing us that expatriate father Henry (Ewan McGregor) is being urged by his MD-turned housewife Marie (Naomi Watts) to take the family back to the UK after having lived abroad for years. Their bickering is ditched once the disaster hits. From here, the family is split, with half of the movie centring on Watts and her oldest son Lucas (young Tom Holland- who's incredible) trying to find help despite Watts' horrific wounds. The other half focuses mainly on Henry, who managed to save the two younger kids, and is now desperately searching the ruins for the rest of his displaced family.
The event itself is depicted in such a harrowing, uncompromising way that it makes the one shown in Clint Eastwood's HEREAFTER looks comparatively low-tech. But- the disaster is not really what this is about, but rather the fight to survive, and Bayona puts his actors through the ringer. Watts brilliantly conveys a head-strong mom who's forced to, in effect, become the child when her wounds force Lucas to become her caretaker after they escape the Tsunami. Her physical decline is absolutely horrific, and while this is probably going out with a PG-13 rating, it's not for the squeamish.
McGregor is also extremely affecting as the desperate Henry, and his breakdown while on the phone to his father-in-law later in the film screams “Oscar clip” (although this is strictly a supporting role, not a lead). However, it's the young Holland who's probably going to walk away with most of the kudos, with his evolution from a spoiled brat, into a compassionate survivor who tries to help those in need the best he can- being beautifully depicted. Geraldine Chaplin also has a nice little part as an older woman who crucially comes forward to comfort the two younger kids when they are left to fend for themselves.
In the end, THE IMPOSSIBLE is all about the need for hope against impossible odds. While HBO's TSUNAMI: THE AFTERMATH probably gave a more balanced and comprehensive look at the disaster, THE IMPOSSIBLE is itself a pretty fine piece of work, and one that will likely find a healthy audience when it hits theatres at the end of the year. Whether or not that audience will include Academy members is another question, although nominations for the VFX seem a no-brainer.