March 8, 2017

The Impossible

J.A. Bayona, 2012
There are disaster movies that focus on the disaster, and then there are disaster movies that aren't really disaster movies because they focus on the characters that are victim to the disaster. The Impossible is definitely the latter of the two. A disaster film with a heart. Focusing on an English family of five, they are on Christmas holiday in Thailand in 2004 when the historic tsunami hit their beachside resort. The images of this natural disaster have been in my memory for the past 13 years since it happened. Seeing the beautiful country decimated by Mother Nature so quickly. I remember seeing the amateur footage on Youtube back when the disaster occurred.

Bayona's immediate accomplishment with this film is getting you invested in the characters so quickly. Without this they would be nameless faces dealing with the destruction. But instead, you are familiar with them very early on. You see their vulnerabilities as they sit on an airplane on their way to their vacation spot. Maria (Naomi Watts) has anxiety from the turbulence. Henry (Ewan McGregor) has some OCD tendencies with trying to remember if he had set an alarm at home before they left. These elements cleverly humanize them and help to generate empathy early.

When the tsunami hits, it doesn't feel like a bastardized CGI construct. It feels like an authentic force. The film doesn't heavily lean on the CGI though. It feels completely necessary, like its just enough. How it should be. A supplemental tool in the absence of the real thing. There is an obvious sense of panic. You are left with no real answers as to which members of the family have survived and which members have perished. The film then evolves into more of a gripping survival film as a wounded and incomplete family desperately tries to become complete again.

The sense of desperation and heartbreak resonates throughout the film and I can't remember the last time that a 2 hour running time passed by so quickly. Watts and McGregor deliver remarkable performances as they usually do. Surprising to see that Watts was the only one that received attention from the Academy with a Best Actress nomination (she lost to Jennifer Lawrence for Silver Linings Playbook). McGregor really deserved a nomination too. It's actually quite surprising to realize that McGregor has yet to receive a single Oscar nomination in his entire career when you remember his performances in films like Trainspotting and Big Fish. The Impossible is a really gripping film, rich in detail. History should be kind to this film. A really accurate look at one of the most tragic and destructive natural disasters in our modern era.

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