Is it worth $10? Yes
It is, without exaggeration, unthinkable. Imagine vacationing at a brand new, beatific resort in Thailand during Christmas. Kids are behaving, parents are getting needed down time, then out of nowhere a tsunami causes tidal waves to engulf your island resort and sends people running, screaming and yes swimming for their lives.
Director Juan Antonio Bayona gets our blood pumping in the opening sequence as a family of five flies to Thailand. They are: mother Maria (Naomi Watts) and father Henry (Ewan McGregor), oldest son Lucas (Tom Holland), middle son Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and the youngest son, Simon (Oaklee Pendergast). Shortly before arriving there’s turbulence on the plane, and the bumps, shakes and loud noises get us attuned to what’s happening in the area surrounding the family. These sound effects are essential to establish here because they prompt our ears, consciously or not, to pay attention to the sounds (i.e. screams of distress) in the background after the tsunami and during the rescue. This is skillful, smart filmmaking.
After the natural disaster the family is divided: Maria and Lucas negotiate the waves together and are rescued by locals, who take them to a nearby hospital. Henry and the other boys take hold at a refugee camp, but don’t stay there long. Logic would dictate them staying together, but Henry believes his family is alive and is determined to find them.
It is Maria’s story, highlighted by a great performance from Watts, that is the most compelling. Maria gets pretty banged up: A stick nearly impales her abdomen, and she has so much flesh torn from the back of her leg that she’s losing too much blood. Gaunt and pale but always a fighter, Watts gives Maria an inner strength that fires with such resonance that you honestly believe it will take more than a tsunami to keep her down. Watts also has the good fortune of being complemented by Holland, who takes a role many child actors couldn’t handle and superbly executes the dramatic complexity of his character.
You’ll be surprised to learn that real water was used to shoot the harrowing tsunami sequences, not (entirely) visual effects. Miniatures were built and flooded after more than a year’s worth of preparation to gain an understanding of how the water would flow. These images served as the basis for the visual effects, which enhance the devastation. Similarly, the actors were submerged in real water as their characters nearly drowned, then those shots were layered in with other shots of debris under water. What this does is effectively convey the reality that if the wave doesn’t get you, the other elements – floating trees, cars, bikes, you name it – will.
The film is based on the true story of a family in Thailand in late 2004, and one can only imagine the horror of living through this ordeal. Kudos to them for having the fortitude to survive, and kudos to the cast and crew of “The Impossible” for telling their story so well.
Did you know?
Actual tsunami survivors worked as extras.
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