"“Two worthy Oscar shouts from both McGregor and Watts...”"
It seems that this winter, what with Life of Pi and now The Impossible, that the most villainous of cinematic antagonists is that of the Ocean, as Juan Antonio Bayona presents to us the incredible true story of one families fight for survival during the 2004 tsunami that claimed tens of thousands of lives across South Asia.
British parents Henry (Ewan McGregor) and Maria (Naomi Watts) decide to spend Christmas in Thailand with their three children, Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast), taking a break away from the stress of the hard work Henry undertakes in Japan, where they live. However, when casually residing by the swimming pool, a shattering tsunami strikes, as the Indian Ocean earthquake crashes inland and threatens all of their lives. Facing a seemingly impossible task of all surviving, not only must they attempt to stay alive, but they then have the trouble of trying to find one another amidst the carnage and devastation caused from one of the worst ever recorded natural disasters.
Bayona sets the production up well, as the opening stages have a taut, foreboding atmosphere as we all know of what's to come. Bayona normalises everything, as the family discuss work and stress over the most trivial of matters – such as the children bickering. However by doing this, it just enhances the effect of when the tsunami strikes, while succinctly portraying how you can go from normality to disaster in just a split second. The imagery used is effective too, as we have shots of the sea, looking still and peaceful. An unnerving sight when you know what is soon to occur. Also, the effects used to display the tsunami is handled incredibly, looking harrowingly authentic, while the sound of this wave crashing against their hotel is deafening.
Given the subject matter, The Impossible is of course a very distressing feature, and Bayona can be accused of playing up to the melodrama somewhat, in a film that takes a very mainstream Hollywood approach to the overall subject – such as the scene when Thomas and Simon look up the sky and discuss the stars. It's rather twee and emotionally manipulative. However in defence of Bayona, it works well in this instance, maximising the emotional effect in what is a full on tear jerker. Meanwhile, the performances across the board are terrific, with two worthy Oscar shouts from both McGregor and Watts, while Holland shines at the youngster Lucas.
One issue to be had with this title, and it's not a gripe with the film as such, but it's just how Thailand, despite being the films setting, feels somewhat disregarded. You get the impression that never mind the fact that areas of the country are in complete ruins and that thousands upon thousands of people are dying – as long as the White, middle-class British family are okay that's all that matters, while the film seems a tad too concerned at highlighting the feel-good aspects amidst the devastation caused, feeling almost insensitive as a result. However, you can comprehend why the film does follow the story of the British family (despite them being Spanish in real life), because, quite simply, Hollywood is a business and it's easier to market, not to mention the fact that it allows the filmmakers to draw in the likes of Watts and McGregor.
Nonetheless, Bayona does justice to the recent disaster that shook the world and one that still remains very strong in the memory. It comes across as a fair and honest portrayal of such upsetting events, and he must be commended for that – while the two powerhouse performances from the leads are outstanding. It's not an easy trip to the cinema of course, as this film is bound to upset you given all too relative themes. In fact, I cried so much that I could probably donate enough water for a sequel.