Naomi Watts has battled Japanese spirits and domesticated a twenty-five foot tall ape, but in “The Impossible” she confronts a natural disaster she can’t tame—the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami which devastated fourteen countries bordering the Indian Ocean, claiming 230,000 lives.
Watts and Ewan McGregor are Henry and Maria, Japan-based-Brits who travel to Thailand for Christmas with their three kids Lucas (Tom Holland), Simon (Oaklee Pendergast) and Thomas (Samuel Joslin). Relaxing at a tony beachside resort, mom is lounging by the pool reading a book while dad splashes around with the kids. Suddenly a wave the height of an office building comes inland, destroying everything in its path and separating the family who float in different directions during the melee.
The first hour focuses on Maria and Lucas as they try and reach safety before switching gears to henry’s search for his wife and son.
In the immediate aftermath of the wave there isn’t much dialogue, just intense scenes of survival. Director Juan Antonio Bayona takes his time, really showing the immense power of the wave as it sweeps people, cars and even houses aside. It is harrowing stuff that hammers home the absolute helplessness of being in a situation governed by Mother Nature.
The second part of the story is more conventional, though still potent. Henry’s search for his wife is the stuff of action films, but McGregor brings some highly charged emotion to what could have been a standard against-all-odds scenario.
McGregor is good, but it is the kids and Watts that stick. As a mother who presses through injury to get her son to safety Watts is raw and real. It’s a great performance that will likely get recognized in award season.
The kids, particularly Holland as eldest Lucas, are naturals, and guaranteed to tug at your heartstrings. Bring a towel to soak up the tears.
“The Impossible” is more than simply the story of the tsunami or the family, it is about humanity’s ability to pull together in times of crisis; of those moments when a small gesture, like a hug or a fresh shirt can make a world of difference. It’s about people at their best in the worst of situations, and even though the ending is a bit pat, it makes you believe that there can be happy coincidences even in chaos.