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The Impossible - Review

The Impossible

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

JUAN Antonio Bayona’s tsunami drama The Impossible is an incredible film in many ways. But it sometimes lets emotion get the better of it.

Inspired by the true story of a family’s ordeal during the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami in Thailand, the film offers a harrowing insight into what really happened both during and in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts play the parents involved, Henry and Maria, who become separated once the tidal wave hits. But while Henry emerges relatively unscathed with his two youngest sons (Oaklee Pendergast and Samuel Joslin), Maria is swept inland with her eldest, Lucas (played by Tom Holland), becoming injured in the process.

Bayona’s recreation of the actual tsunami itself is, without question, a tour-de-force moment that captures the devastating ferocity of the natural disaster and the way in which survival can hinge on a split-second incident. Shot using real water, it is breathless and terrifying.

It’s aftermath, too, carries a lot of emotional weight, both in terms of the consequences for the Maria and Lucas but also in the wider context of Thailand and its countless victims.

Through the eyes of the family, we are able to see the devastation and the relief effort and how, in the face of adversity and tragedy, people retained their humanity.

Sceptics may question why Bayona opted for internationally recognised actors rather than sticking with Spaniards (especially as the family at the centre of the real-life story was, in fact, Spanish), or why the film chose to focus on one story as opposed to the wider event.

But Bayona would argue that the presence of McGregor and Watts gives the film broader global appeal, while insisting that his film never forgets Thailand as a whole.

Indeed, he was at pains throughout to maintain authenticity, having liaised extensively with the real-life family throughout and shooting at many of the real-life locations (McGregor is stood at the exact point in the same pool that his real-life counterpart was stood when the wave hit).

He also put his cast through the rigours of shooting in water rather than opting for CGI enhancements to heighten the authenticity.

As a result, he draws great performances all round but especially from Watts and Holland, the latter of whom displays a maturity beyond his years.

Where the film feels less authentic is during its opening, establishing shots which err towards the contrived, and to a certain extent during the conclusion when things become very sentimental. But a slightly overdone musical score doesn’t help in that department.

Minor criticisms aside, however, The Impossible is a worthy, often inspiring piece of work that deserves to find a wide audience. Bayona, meanwhile, enhances his reputation as another of Spain’s great directors, having previously helmed The Orphanage.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 130mins
UK Release Date: January 1, 2013