Monday, January 7, 2013

The Impossible


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.

The Impossible tells the harrowing true story of a vacationing family in Thailand who were devastated by the massive tsunami that wrecked the country on Dec. 26, 2004. The film begins on Christmas Eve as doctor-turned-stay-at-home mother Maria (Naomi Watts) and her successful businessman husband Henry (Ewan McGregor) arrive in Thailand with their three boys Lucas (age 12), Thomas (age 7) and Simon (age 5). The film glides briskly over their first two days (which, in hindsight, may be its biggest downfall) and wastes no time getting to the disaster.
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-

14 comments:

  1. This sounds like a powerful movie -- it's a shame there isn't more character development. I have a feeling this will be an issue for me too. However, I do want to see it, especially since Naomi Watts is in it.

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    1. And Watts definitely makes it worth it. I hope she nabs an Oscar nomination, but I honestly don't know if the movie is strong enough to put it on voters' radar.

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  2. Watts is my favorite living actress, so I'm too excited to see this film. I appreciate your review as it only increased that feeling.

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    1. Nice man, glad you're such a Watts fan. Lady is crazy talented. This is some of the best work she's ever done. I just wish my praises for the film were as positive.

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  3. Watts performance reminded me I need to see more films from her.

    I quite liked the film, possibly because I thought they recreated the tsunami and the setting so well.

    How real and brutal were some of those sounds! Crazy.

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    1. Oh the sound design and execution were nuts, no doubt. Oscar consideration definitely needs to be given there. And Watts, ah, she's just remarkable. I cannot recommend her other performances highly enough. What she does in 21 Grams is nothing short of an acting miracle. And Mulholland Dr.... wow.

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  4. Good review Alex. It's intentions are definitely from and for the heart, but something just felt off throughout the last hour of this movie and it became more and more obvious as it went along. Still, the performances were great and I look forward to seeing what this Tom Holland kid can do.

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    1. Thanks Dan! Yep, could not agree more with you. Its heart was definitely there, but something was missing. Holland is a real talent, I hope his career flourishes.

      Gonna check out your review now!

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  5. Glad you loved the performances as well. I see where you're coming from in regards to connecting with the family, but when the water hit, I was hooked. For some reason, I took that leap and immediately cared about these characters. I wanted them to be reunited and safe, and I would've stuck with them through a longer running time. The film is certainly manipulative, but consider me manipulated. And happily so. :)

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    1. You know, I think I actually would've liked it more if it was a bit longer, at least on the days before the storm. I definitely enjoyed all of the performances, but yeah, it just never fully hit for me.

      Either way, glad you struck such an emotional chord with you. So exciting when movies do that.

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  6. Great review. This film really made me miss my family :(

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    1. Thanks man! Yeah, this one really pulled on those heartstrings.

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  7. I loved this movie so much. It was really good and of course I cried LOL

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    1. It was pretty good! Watts is just the best.

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