Director: Juan Antonio Bayora // Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor // Plot: The true story of how one family – mother Maria (Naomi Watts), father Henry (Ewan McGregor) and their sons Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast) – survived the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 during their Christmas break to the region.
Review: With the carefully endorsed authenticity of this story still fresh in our minds thanks to an opening placard, a deep, low-end rumbling intensifies to the point of discomfort. It’s an unnerving moment, no doubt, but for this viewer, it made for a very exciting opening. This is a sound synonymous with dread and expectation. As anyone who has sat through a Paranormal Activity film will tell you; this is the sound of something actually happening.
It is also the first of many confrontations with The Impossible’s incredible sound design. Ominous tones are laced throughout, with a clear emphasis on every crunch and shock absorbed by the bodies of our ravaged protagonists. It is at times overwhelming in its desolation, so much so that when the inevitably shimmering piano does make an appearance, it is with heartfelt relief rather than a rolling of the eyes.
Said relief arrives somewhat prematurely, however, when, after a rather tumultuous flight, Maria, Henry, Lucas, Thomas and Simon begin to unwind and enjoy life in their tropical paradise resort. One blissful montage in particular, in which the family and an assortment of their fellow lodgers enjoy an evening meal, gives one an idea of what Coach Trip could look like if it wasn’t so reliant on its predilection for the mentally deranged. With this false sense of security firmly established, Bayona hits us with a devastating recreation of the tsunami. That rumbling is now back in full force, accompanied by some brilliantly realised visuals. Strangely, refreshingly, there’s very little of the destruction porn we have come to expect from these types of films – the disaster is instead observed from a very human level. Quite literally, in fact: there is a surprising dearth of aerial shots on show, with Bayora clearly more interested in what the human body can endure. Evidently, his guinea pig is Watts’ Maria, who sustains a toe-curling injury early on that had the majority of the theatre in shock long after its reveal.
Clearly proud of his reenactment, Bayora bookends the film with it, with the later, extended edit reveling in the sheer impossibility of the families survival. Despite there being a lot more action on offer than I had originally anticipated, the film’s second, more traditionally told half proves to be just as compelling. The film never resorts to tacky CNN news reports or the like, with only a handful of glimpses at frustratingly distant television sets. These are usually from the perspective of Holland’s Lucas, who, along with Watts, carries the bulk of the film. Considering the physical and emotional demands of their roles, both actors give exceptional performances. McGregor’s no slouch, either, however, in a role that borders on ‘supporting’. Despite not being afforded as many money moments as his onscreen-wife, a phone call-induced breakdown will certainly linger in the mind.
The Impossible is a film that succeeds in almost every conceivable way, from its extraordinary performances to the meticulous sound design, to the golden tones of Óscar Faura’s sun-stained cinematography. While there will always be the question of exploitation on the part of filmmakers attempting to recreate these kinds of disasters on film, Bayora has at least a crafted a tasteful tribute, all without jettisoning his artistic ambition – a task that had previously seemed impossible in itself.
View the spoileriffic trailer below: