As the ending credits rolled to The Impossible, I sat in the theater thinking about something that didn’t really have anything to do to with anything. But I was curious: Why is it that a film directed, produced, written, edited and photographed by people of Spanish descent stars white people? Now, this isn’t a critique of the film, because the actors chosen are remarkable throughout, but hell, even the characters the actors are portraying are based on Spanish people, so I was curious.
After some quick research, I learned through Wikipedia and several other sources that director Juan Antonio Bayona chose to not specify the nationalities of the main characters as a means of creating “a universal film in which nationalities were irrelevant to the plot.” That’s interesting, and, in fact, makes me value the film even more. Which, sadly, isn’t as much as I would like.
Now be warned, because once the waves hit, you’re in for as gut wrenching and visceral a movie going experience as was available in a film made in 2012. In fact, the scenes of the catastrophe (which wisely stay entirely with Watts’ character) are so fierce that I’m stunned the film managed to escape with a PG-13 rating. The sound and production designers here damn sure earned their worth, because they help make a recreated account of one of the world’s deadliest natural disasters into something truly horrifying. Like slowly passing by a particularly grave car accident, you know you shouldn’t look, but you simply can’t take your eyes off it.
When the mayhem subsides, Maria is injured badly, but has Lucas to help her to safety. After they reach a hospital, the film begins to cross cut their story (which, at this point, shifts almost solely to Lucas’ actions) with Henry, Thomas and Simon’s survival. Those three were lucky to have found one another during the storm, but it doesn’t take long for Henry to get anxious about searching for his wife and oldest boy.
I hate to point out whatever flaws I have about a movie so well intentioned, but that’s the game. For starters, just know that The Impossible has no qualms about showing you the beauty in disaster. This film is filled with many (many, many) sequences of families being reunited, hope living on, prayers being answered – you get it. That’s its M.O., so fair enough. Flaw may be too harsh a word, but when the film was finished, I wish I had known more about this family, when in fact, I knew virtually nothing about their motivations, fears, desires, etc. Now, this is a tricky argument, because, essentially, what I’m saying is that you can’t enjoy a movie involving characters you know nothing about. That’s not true and that’s certainly not my point. My point is that I didn’t care about the characters I was watching, at least not one-tenth the amount I suspect I could’ve.
Thankfully, Bayona casted his picture with two of the best actors around. Naomi Watts runs second in my book as our finest living actress (directly behind dear Marion), and her performance as Maria is a perfect case in point. The torment, the anguish, even the brief acceptance in her fate, are all emotions Watts hits impeccably. There simply isn’t a false note to be found here. Likewise McGregor, whose character arc rides like a roller coaster given the many impulsive decisions Henry is forced to make. Those two (along with Tom Holland, who is perfect as Lucas) make the movie. Without their work, and a couple of extended, brutal tsunami sequences, there wouldn’t be much to set The Impossible apart. B-