REVIEW: The Impossible

16 01 2013

The ImpossibleI can never imagine the pain and the agony of being put through nature’s crucible, but I can gain an ever so slight taste of it from movies that can bottle up their terror.  The latest of such is “The Impossible,” which ripped a hole in my stomach in a way no movie has since “127 Hours.”  Juan Antonio Bayona’s gut-punch of a movie takes us through the incredible journey of one separated family during the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami, and boy, does it pack on the pain.

The film begins with an uneasy exposition, introducing us to the Bennett family that has come to Thailand for Christmas to release some steam from their hectic lives.  Just like in any movie headed towards disaster, you grit your teeth waiting for the inevitable to arrive.  With the dramatic irony escalating as they idyllically enjoy the calmness of their resort, the nervous waiting for these people to be thrown into hell on earth builds up.

And then when the tsunami hits, our first sign of devastation is a primordial wail from Maria, Naomi Watts’ benevolent matriarch, as she hangs onto a tree for dear life.  It’s a moment of paralyzing hopelessness that reverberates strongly and affectingly, setting the tone for what is to be a movie with a new agony at every turn.

Naomi Watts in The Impossible

In the interest of letting this true-life horror story retain its shocking effect, I’ll leave details scant on what exactly happens to the Bennetts.  But know that “The Impossible” is not for the faint at heart; it vividly portrays the damage done by the tsunami on the town, the bodies, and – most searingly – the soul.  It’s one thing to watch a reenactment of the wave demolishing wide tracts of land but an entirely different beast to see it destroy innocence, hope, and humanity.

Everything is amplified by the strong emotional rapport established with the Bennetts, particularly Maria and her eldest son, Lucas (Tom Holland).  They miraculously managed to end up together, and the narrative mainly relies on them to make the film visceral and authentic for the audience.  Their quest for survival and aid in a foreign country is one that plumbs some incredibly dark depths, places that I was more than willing to go with Watts and Holland because they made me care for their characters so profoundly.

Though I might have a few issues with Bayona and scripter Sergio Sanchez making the real Bennett family, the Belóns, white so nationality was irrelevant, I felt for Watts’ Maria and Holland’s Lucas as if they were my own flesh and blood.  Both managed to walk a delicate balance between playing an archetype and playing a specific person with their own rich internal life.

Watts is phenomenal as usual, but Tom Holland is a true revelation.  Perhaps it was some of what I projected of myself onto the character, but I found his performance to be exceptionally moving.  Though Watts gets the more showy, Oscar-type scenes, Holland really gives the film its muscle with his budding heroism and fortitude in the face of tragedy.

Yes, while “The Impossible” may not be the best movie for the faint-at-heart, it’s an entirely worthwhile experience for those who can stomach it – precisely for what it will do for your heart.  It will make you appreciate your safety, security, and comfort.  It will uplift you, though not without tearing you down first.  It will make you hug your family a little tighter.  And most importantly, it will renew you, reminding you once again of the triumphant will and tenacity of the human spirit.  A- / 3halfstars

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5 responses

16 01 2013
ChazIng

And what about the lack of East Asians in the storyline? Isn’t this yet another Europeans in an exotic locale movie? Or was the movie so well done this did not matter?

16 01 2013
Marshall

It didn’t matter because the movie was that good. It nagged at me a little bit, but not enough to ruin anything. Reminds me of “Gran Torino” – had some issues with the simplistic portrayal of the Hmong, but that movie was so incredible that the complaint seems so querulous when you put it up against the whole.

16 01 2013
ChazIng

Thanks, will have a watch then.

16 01 2013
Marshall

It would have made my top 10 had I seen it in the calendar year 2012.

16 01 2013
jeffro517

Great review!

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