A family of five is caught, with tens of thousands of strangers, in the mayhem of one of the worst natural catastrophes of our time, the Thailand tsunami on Boxing Day 2004. Maria (Naomi Watts) is swept away and struggles to survive with her son, their eldest, Lucas (Tom Holland). Somewhere in the chaos - or perhaps already dead - are her husband Henry (Ewan McGregor) and her two smaller sons, little Simon (Oaklee Pendergast) and tiny Thomas (Samuel Joslin). (Based on a true story.)
Review by Louise Keller:
There are many powerful scenes in this true life and death scenario about the impact of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami to one family, but none can match the potency of the scene when Henry (Ewan McGregor) borrows a mobile phone from a stranger to ring home. All pretence of composure is thrown to the wind as Henry breaks down, describing his unbearable anguish in not knowing the whereabouts of his wife and two of his young sons. It is a lump-in-throat moment in what is an intense and often harrowing film, offering an insight into the experience - both physical and psychological. From the recreation of the devastating tsunami itself and the depiction of drowning by Maria (Naomi Watts), the film subsequently embarks on two different journeys by the separated family members - as they struggle to reunite.
As Henry, Maria and their three sons settle into thee beachfront paradise in Thailand's Khao Lak on Christmas Eve, there are establishment shots of calm cerulean waters, lush palm trees, coloured tropical fish, exotic orchids and refreshing swimming pool in which to relax. The recreation of the tsunami itself that crashes over walls, trees and buildings in just a matter of seconds is reminiscent to that portrayed in Clint Eastwood's Hereafter, but it is the impact of what happens next that is perhaps even more distressing. The camera's point of view initially focuses on Maria and oldest son Lucas (Tom Holland), as they are both washed away with dramatic force. The underwater shots jolt especially, as Maria distressingly collides with debris, ripping her skin to shreds. A tree becomes the sanctuary for Maria and Lucas (along with a young blond child, whom they rescue) before being taken to a hospital.
There's a slight break to the intensity as the attention shifts to Henry who is making sure the two younger boys Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast) are safe while he searches for Maria and Lucas. There's a poignant moment to which any parent will relate as Thomas tells his father he has never looked after anyone before, when he is asked to look after his little brother. (Both children are adorable and give excellent performances.) The film also experiences a little dip in the final reel after the tension of the intense hospital scenes in which Maria is admitted, pass. Look out for Geraldine Chaplin in a memorable cameo in which she talks about stars and their beautiful mystery to Lucas, whose passion is to gaze at the star-filled sky.
Watts and McGregor both give impacting performances, with Watts spending most of her time on her back, suffering from her severe injuries. Special mention to Tom Holland, who delivers impressively as the youngster who finds special rewards helping individuals reunite with their lost families at his mother's suggestion. Director Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage) manages all the elements of the tragedy proficiently, through Sergio G. Sánchez's concise screenplay.
Of course the depiction of such a tragedy is a keen reminder of the shattering perils that have affected many families and the heart transmitted through the film is a reassuring reminder of the tenacity of the human spirit who rally together when it counts.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The title of the film provides its rationale: this is a record of what seems impossible during the devastating 2004 Boxing Day tsunami that hit Thailand (and other parts of South Asia). The only reason to put us through the harrowing scenes of nature on a rampage is to show us that the impossible is possible; that we should never give up hope. Of course, it is only one story out of thousands, and possibly one of only a few that can be told. The others may be too dark for retelling as a movie.
The filmmakers gather the considerable tools available today to recreate the fury of a tsunami, and it is important for us to register the enormity of its power. Even after seeing it on the TV screen in the aftermath of the event, nothing can prepare us for the simulated version, which seems terrifyingly accurate. But this isn't a thrill ride at a fun fair; fun is the last word to come to mind here. This enormous effort is to convince us of the truth of it - through the 'lies' of cinema.
Apart from anything else, the drama of the event is of course thrown into sharp relief by the fact that so many of the victims were holiday makers; the sudden shift from frolicking to fear, from splashing in the swimming pool to thrashing in the heaving surge make for sobering viewing.
The most challenging aspect of disaster movies to make the disaster believable. But performances aren't all about screaming, and this cast does a remarkable job of convincing us of their complexities and humanity. Especially notable are the three youngsters, Tom Holland as Lucas the eldest, whose role is significant, and he creates a connection with the audience that is essential to the film's impact.
Oaklee Pendergast as the middle boy Simon is simply marvellous, absolutely credible on an emotional level; as is Samuel Joslin the toddler. The adult stars are expected to deliver exceptional work and they do - under what must have been stressful and physically demanding circumstances. Notable, too, is the lovely Ploy Jindachot as a caring Thai nurse.
The filmmakers set out to take us into the undertow of a tsunami and show us its terrible impact, and in that they succeed (save perhaps a slightly overlong ending), giving us a single family's perspective with great clarity and dramatic honesty.
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IMPOSSIBLE, THE (M)
CAST: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast, Geraldine Chaplin, Marta Atura, Ploy Jindachot
PRODUCER: Belen Atienza, Alvaro Augustin, Ghislain Barrois, Enrique Lopez Lavigne
DIRECTOR: Juan Antonio Bayona
SCRIPT: Sergio G. Sanchez
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Oscar Faura
EDITOR: Bernat Vilaplana, Elena Ruiz,
MUSIC: Fernando Velazquez
RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Hoyts
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 24, 2013