The Impossible is an absolutely astounding piece of work that is both a moving tribute to the perseverance of the Thai people after a tsunami struck its coast in 2004 and a true story of faith and a family of five that survived. It deserved every one of those Golden Globe nominations. Ewan McGregor is Henry while Naomi Watts stuns as his wife Maria. It is 2004 and they have brought their three young children to a paradise known as the beaches of Thailand. Within hours of their arrival, the catastrophic tsunami strikes.
The story initially follows Watts as the wave takes her miles away. Slammed against debris that we learn later cut open her leg, she struggles to stay afloat and survive. When she emerges, clinging to the top of a palm tree surrounded by water, her emotional breakdown is heartbreakingly real. Watts is getting a lot of Oscar buzz for this role, and if she is nominated, please let the Academy show this clip to celebrate her performance.
In those mere moments, the feeling of anyone who was there on that day is captured by the actress with uncanny and otherworldly gifts. As she gets her emotions in check and switches from sadness to survival, we hear the sound of her oldest son's voice.
Tom Holland astounds as Lucas. As seen in The Impossible trailer, when he tells his mother he is scared and she replies in kind, the tone of the film has been set. As the mother and son tandem wade their way through the muddy water and limp in search of safety, their onscreen will to survive is a celebration of the human spirit.
Meanwhile, McGregor is shown -- safely back at the trashed hotel with his two youngest sons. We learn that he emerged from the tsunami and heard each boy yelling from a different tree. If there is anything we wanted more from The Impossible, and it isn't much, Movie Fanatic would have liked to have learned more about McGregor's experience post-wave. But, we are simply caught up to speed on what happened through dialogue.
Henry is determined to find his wife and as trucks take people away to higher ground, he makes a fateful decision to put his boys with a new friend from the hotel on the truck so he can continue his search for Maria. Now, we have a family in three locales in the middle of the worst natural disaster mankind had seen in a century. How on earth will they find each other?
What permeates the subconscious as the audience watches The Impossible is that this really happened. Although the nationality of the family was altered from Spanish to English, it does not lessen the power of their harrowing experience. Some have argued that the film, by centering its story on a privileged family, failed to capture the terror felt by those who call Thailand their home. As a matter of fact, as told to us in our exclusive Naomi Watts interview, the entire team making the film sought to pay tribute to those who were lost. Well, they succeeded.
In fact, it is impossible not to see how the locals had their lives changed by the disaster. This film is not their story, it is the tale of a family torn apart by tragedy and an overall celebration of our species' uncanny will to survive.
Director Juan Antonio Bayona brings the right touch to capturing the horror without exploiting it. The special effects give audiences a tsunami that possesses a monstrous feel that shakes the entire theater. It is a marvel of moviemaking and a necessary one. Had the wall of water not looked as terrifying as it did to those who sat near the beach that day, the horror everyone felt would have been hollow. Bayona never loses sight of his story by getting lost in the suffering seen and felt from every corner of the landscape torn apart by an atom bomb-like wake.
Our The Impossible review closes with a salute to everyone involved in this true tale. By the closing credits, you will want to hug your loved ones just that much more tightly.
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