Directed by: Juan Antonio Bayona Cast: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland Running Time: 1 hr 54 mins Rating: PG-13 Release Date: January 4, 2013 (Portland)
PLOT: A family (Watts, McGregor, Holland) struggles to reunite after being in the middle of a deadly tsunami.
WHO'S IT FOR? For the right-aged family, The Impossible could make for one heck of an experience at the movies; one that will equally entertain, and also remind all to cherish the non-guaranteed bonds of family.
The Impossible, the latest film from the director who previously helmed The Orphanage, is based on a true story (one that would be better not to look up, or see previews beforehand). However, this is one piece of nonfiction without a sense of safety, but instead one with a rushing magnitude of emotions. It is a horror story of a monstrous tsunami, and then through the power of the human spirit, it is the heartbreaking tale of a family, against many odds, trying to be whole again.
Watts and McGregor are in fine emotional form in the movie as the family's two parents. In her ability to take "scream queen" to raw levels, Watts shows viewers what it is like for someone in a life-changing tragedy like that of the tsunami to go from a healthy tourist person to an anonymous hospital bed tag number, as she fades to disturbing body pigments in the unpredictable environment of a shelter.
Whereas Watts is putting in dedicated physical work, McGregor offers his own palpable serving of compassion, as the father continually looking for hope. We meet him while knowing his mother and son are alive; and yet he, along with his carefully controlled authentic emotion, provides us with the nerve-wracking doubt that his family will ever be reunited.
The film's most impressive performance comes from Tom Holland; a newcomer with previous stage experience in Billy Elliot (and a film credit previously only in voice-acting The Secret World of Arrietty). Playing the part of an independent teen who experiences extreme maturation through the film's incredible emotional circumstances, Holland proves to be more than strong enough to carry the film's weight. The Impossible succeeds due to Holland's ability to deliver the heavyweight feelings; with a performance that highlights the film's idea that children and adults are on the same level, Holland's work here is not just kid acting. (While I voted for Holland in the Chicago Film Critic Association's awards for "Best Newcomer," I also previously tried to nominated him for "Best Actor.")
While working with this true story, the film does show respect to its subject, and to its people (yes, even by casting white actors to play originally Spanish characters). But the closest that the film gets to pushing its true story emotion to the point of possible manipulation is with its score, which has suspicious cues. Acting as if the movie were not confident enough in everything else occurring in the story, (a common flaw in generic Hollywood movies), the film's dominating score doesn't need more accents, but restraints.
That being said, The Impossible is a captivating aesthetic experience, especially thanks to expansive special effects and loud (loud, loud, loud!) sound design that fully immerse the audience into the horror of being swept away through unpredictable waters. The sequence in which the film's tsunami hits is thoroughly scary, and thus, essentially perfect.
Directed with compassion by Bayona, The Impossible is a thoroughly cinematic representation of a true story one can't believe they'd ever be a part of. Like the best of nonfictional stories, especially those involving disasters, Bayona leaves his audience with a strong idea of what such a unbelievable experience must feel like.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10