'The Impossible' Review: True Tale Proves Emotionally Captivating

It's been about eight years since a massive tsunami devastated much of the Asian continent. The tsunami hit the day after Christmas in 2004 and killed more than 100,000 people. It also affected millions of other families who were in the area or who knew those directly affected by the disaster.

“The Impossible” chronicles one American family that was on vacation in Thailand when the devastating event occurred.


Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor star as Henry and Marla, a young couple raising three mischievous but endearing brothers. The family is enjoying their trip when during a visit to the pool, the ocean -- so beautiful at a distance—erupts and a massive wave overwhelms the coastal area. Homes are shattered. Families destroyed. Lives changed. It is in that sequence and the ensuing ones that director Juan Antonio Bayona propels the audience into the story.

The chaos of the tsunami is frantically shot as survivors attempt to peek out of the water to stay alive. Maria emerges from the water seconds at a time looking at the surrounding area and trying to locate her lost  children and her missing husband.

In a few heart-breaking sequences, Maria spots her oldest child Lucas (Tom Holland) and attempts to reach him. The water is too fierce though as the two drift, swim and fight to make it through the flood. Of course, their bodies are being propelled by pounds of water as both are pushed and prodded by normal everyday items that are as armful as weapons in the open water.

Although none of the members of the family are well-established as the film begins, the scenes of this duo trying to find each other are emotionally gripping. The director creates an intense and personal scene where viewers are likely to connect with the situation onscreen more than the particular characters. Those moments alone are enough to merit a recommendation.

As the water settles and the two survive that first ordeal, they are rescued by locals who bring them to a makeshift shelter. Meanwhile, Henry searches unflinchingly for the missing members of his family. It would be wrong for me to spoil who survives the storm. What I can note is that the love and affection the members of this family share with one another never disappears from the screen from one heart-breaking scene to the next.

Admittedly, the second half of the story falters a bit, and it's obvious that the filmmakers are simply looking for ways to keep members of this family away from one another for dramatic effect. There is one long sequence where several individuals stand feet away from each other without knowing it. Such clichéd sequences serve to undercut the real power and urgency underlying the proceedings.

“The Impossible” features two solid performances by Watts and McGregor but the greatest acting chops are shown by the young Holland. This boy is put through an intense ordeal as he attempts to save his injured mother and tries to locate his siblings and father. But through it all, Holland shows a sensitivity and a depth of feeling that gives the film a more potent power than it might have had otherwise.

The complete story, though flawed in its execution and with a few ending moments that seem blatantly out of place, is brought to vivid and powerful life in “The Impossible.” Just make sure to bring tissues to the theater when you see it.


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