History has proven that natural disaster movies are a surefire box office draw, with genre legend Roland Emmerich’s films Independence Day, 2012 and The Day After Tomorrow making phenomenal amounts of money. However, these are works of fiction and events are exaggerated for entertainment purposes; audiences enjoy watching the mass destruction of famous landmarks because there’s little chance of it happening in reality. The Impossible, whilst a disaster movie, is wholly different from those previously mentioned due to the simple fact that is is set during the all to real Indonesian Boxing Day tsunami of 2004.
Based on the true story of a family who travel to Thailand to spend the Christmas holiday in a tropical paradise, The Impossible chronicles their struggle to survive after the third largest recorded underwater earthquake strikes their resort.
Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts lead the cast, but it’s newcomer Tom Holland as young Lucas who steals the show. Credit is due for the two big name leads, but Holland is exceptional in his role of the son who must take charge after his family is separated by the sea. The film is essentially in two halves; the first follows Lucas and his mother, Maria (Watts) and the second half sees Henry (McGregor) in his quest to find his wife and son, with the added pressure of taking care of his other two boys. Maria sustains an injury early into the film, and Watts perfectly exhibits a devastating decline of health – it would be unsurprising if her performance is commended in the upcoming awards season. McGregor is exactly how you’d expect him to be: brilliant, but predictable. If you’ve seen a Ewan McGregor drama, you’ll know what he’s like in this.
The tsunami scenes are, in short, astounding. Director Juan Antonio Bayona opted to use real water instead of CGI, and it pays off massively; the reality of the destruction hits so much harder than it would if done by a computer. There’s no masking the tragedy either, with the waves and floods relentlessly crushing everything in their path. The imagery pushes boundaries of its 12A rating, with blood, dead bodies and even nudity prevalent: this isn’t one for the faint hearted.
At times, it can feel a little slow – the scenes are long, and there’s not all that much that happens except a lot of yelling other peoples names, but this was never going to be an action packed thriller. With all the focus on one particular family, it occasionally loses scope on the bigger picture of the disaster. But this is a minor quibble, and the film does include a its fair share of shots of the destruction.
The Impossible is a bittersweet uplifting tale. But to be uplifted, you first have to be knocked down, and Bayona certainly achieves this with his emotionally charged story of one family’s nightmare of being separated. It’s not one that will require repeat viewings, nor would I assume anyone would willingly sit through someone else’s pain twice, but it’s definitely worth watching if you’re unsure if you’re human: if you don’t feel moved after viewing, then unfortunately the answer is no.