Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Disaster movies are tough. The act of putting a natural disaster onto screen that results in destruction and the apparent deaths of hundreds can often churn out amazing looking images, although many will feel a little emotionally manipulated by films like these.
It's definitely a thin line that filmmakers have to walk when tackling this particular genre. ‘The Impossible’ has a further caveat: being a true event, there's an added need and emphasis for the movie to be a tasteful representation of the events and not be yet another exploitative tearjerker.
All things considered, ‘The Impossible’ successfully navigates the thin tight rope that it has had to work with and more. As we already know of the terrible events that happened, the film opens with a terrible sense of dread as we see the Belon family (changed from a Spanish family in real life to British, but it isn't emphasised nor does it really matter) celebrating Christmas. When the tsunami finally hits, it's literally God's fury unleashed right onto what you see on screen itself.
Director Juan Antonio Bayona and his team do a professional job, with excellent cinematography, mostly mobile work capturing Mother Nature's fury at its very most terrifying. The tsunami sequence is legitimately one of the most organically scariest things we’ve seen in a theatre and the excellent camerawork is accentuated by fantastic special effects in terms of the set and sound design. The set work really shines through post-tsunami, with a depressingly authentic looking Khao Lak island completely captured on film, right down to various hospitals and camps.
‘The Impossible’ trailer
The chaotic sound design of water and debris colliding, which is highlighted with bouts of silence that lend so much to the movie, should be commended.
Bayona goes all the way with the authenticity and he obviously respects the audience too much to give a fluffy toned down version. The injuries sustained by Naomi Watts' character are pretty gruesome to watch and may even fall into the “gore” category for some people -- just a heads up. Nevertheless, it's admirable for Bayona to not compromise on the authenticity of what the victims went through then.
Where the movie truly hangs its hat on is the strength of the acting and performances from its cast. Naomi Watts has earned an Academy Award nomination for the Best Actress category and boy, is it well deserved.
Watts is a tour de force here, putting on a physically commanding yet vulnerable performance as a woman who just barely survives the tsunami. It's heart wrenching to watch and Watts never feels insincere or fake like a fictional character would.
Many of her scenes happen together with Tom Holland, who plays Lucas. Holland has a stand out performance as Watts' 12-year-old son, who learns from Watts to become more selfless and also becomes her equal -- the two of them taking turns to be the protector of each other.
Ewan McGregor in 'The Impossible'
Ewan McGregor doesn't phone it in either; the image of him all cut up with blood and still looking for his wife and kid in a shattered wasteland will haunt us for the rest of the year -- a performance full of courage in trying to hold back the inevitable thoughts and feelings of futility and distraught.
A particular favourite scene is McGregor breaking down from just a phone call. It's almost magical to see. The direction from Bayona is great and balanced, there's no one sided “everything is going to be alright” type of direction from him, as we see multiple instances of both selflessness and selfishness, both important facets of humanity in such a time, occur multiple times in the movie. The movie isn't just realistic in its technical approach, but you could really argue that it’s a very realistic portrayal of the emotions that people face in such situations as well.
Some may argue that the screenplay isn't anything to write about, but we’d disagree. With wonderful acting and direction, as well as the giant sized shadow of this real life story, it was a wise move to cut back on the bells and whistles on the screenplay and just play it as simply as possible.
If that was the play, it definitely worked. ‘The Impossible’ is a riveting, compelling watch. Frightening at times, it also possesses an emotional core in the heart of a disastrous event that'll leave a scar in everyone who's seen it. This is one movie that'll stick with us for a long time as an amazing movie, but it isn't one that we’ll be revisiting anytime soon, if only for how intense, harrowing and sad the movie really was.
We’ll be the first to admit, this movie had us on the edge of breaking down pretty much the entire time. And that's credit to the filmmakers and what they have achieved here. An extremely powerful piece of filmmaking, that's what.