Eight years after one of the world’s most devastating natural disasters on record, comes the first film about the Boxing Day South East Asian Tsunami.
On Boxing Day 2004, a 9.3 magnitude earthquake shook the Indian Ocean triggering a massive tsunami that killed over 200,000 people. The Impossible tells the incredible true story of one family’s survival of the terrifying ordeal.
Maria and Henry Bennet (Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor) are holidaying with their three sons, aged 12, 7 and 5, at a beachfront resort in Thailand when the tsunami hits. The film follows their separate, heart wrenching journeys as mother, father and sons struggle to find eachother whilst swallowed by the ensuing chaos and death.
Despite the film recounting the true story of the Spanish Belon family, Director Juan Antonio Bayona (also Spanish!) strove to make them “universal”. Bayona states he did not want to specify the family’s nationality as their story is representative of victims from around the world. This is an admirable sentiment, though admittedly the English accents of the actors cause the audience to label them anyway.
Despite the changing of the family to non-nationality specific, upon reading first-hand recounts from the real Maria Belon, the screenplay appears to be an almost 100% accurate recreation of their experience, even down to the most minute details. On first response this commands respect for the filmmakers, yet upon second consideration, as the story is so dramatic in reality anyway, it hardly needed dramatizing for screen…
In fact, the film is so realistic in it’s depiction of disaster that it may be too much for some sensibilities. Whilst far from ‘gory’, the intense pain and suffering on screen is confronting and, at times, uncomfortable.
Abundantly clear is the cast and crew’s sense of responsibility they felt, not just to the family in focus, but to the hundreds of thousands of people affected. The filmmakers are careful to acknowledge not only the tourists, but emphasize the devastation felt by locals. At some moments this borders on being a little too heavy-handed, but they pull back just in time to avoid any eye-rolling.
The in-water scenes are a triumph of realism. Filmed over five weeks in a giant water tank in Spain, the post-added surrounding landscape is flawless and gives no hint of being CGI. It is claustrophobic but impressive to behold
The acting is strong throughout, Director Bayona states his first and only choices were Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, and it is hard to imagine anyone else in these roles. Watts is a triumph, succeeding at bravely, yet effortlessly, portraying immense pain and strength of spirit; it’s almost a shame she spends the latter half of the film lying at death’s door.
Bayona explains McGregor was chosen for his “humble aura”, his “honest gaze” and for the “empathy he so easily generates from the audience”. Though his character takes a back seat to the story of Maria, he adds an immense warmth that helps ground the film.
The three children were beautifully cast, not only are they unbelievably cute, but they manage the emotional scenes without appearing overly ‘directed’.
The soundtrack is a little too heavy at times with the sweeping orchestration tipping the scales towards ‘overdone’ at some of the more emotional moments. Similarly, the orientation scenes also feel a little ‘staged’, coming across as slightly wooden, with clunky dialogue and deliberate camera work reminiscent of TV movies. However, with the screenplay written by Spanish screenwriters, this could easily be explained by cultural or linguistic differences.
The conclusion is also a little dragged out (once again with an overdone soundtrack) but this can be forgiven and gives you much-needed time to wipe your eyes before the lights in the theatre come back up(!)
The Impossible is a heart-wrenching, incredibly realistic depiction of a terrible disaster, that tells one of the most remarkable stories of survival. Though confronting at times, it is ultimately a magnificent film that does absolute justice to the many affected.
I rate it 8 out of 10 stars.
The Impossible hits Aussie screens January 24th