On December 26, 2004, a massive earthquake occurred on the floor of the Indian Ocean. This violent undersea action set forth a chain of events that caused an enormous amount of pressure and force upward and outward. The end product was a tsunami and resulting devastation unlike any the world had seen before. The casualties numbered over a quarter million spread over southeast Asia, destroying entire towns, lives and displacing the living from their relatives. In the case of one particular family, an immense natural disaster was not going to keep them apart. But without the use of computers, phone lines or radios, finding one another would seem like nothing short of The Impossible.
Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor star as Maria and Henry Barrett, a married couple living in Japan, heading off to Thailand to spend Christmas there with their three young sons. This movie wastes no time in getting to the point. It briefly sets the stage as the family of five is at the Thai coastal resort spending time together. When the tsunami strikes on screen, I have to liken it to the incredible suspense experienced from the crash scene in 2012′s Flight. The overwhelming wall of water is shocking if nothing else, so much to the point that short, muffled gasps could be heard from the other audience members within my earshot. The sweeping wash literally obliterates anything in its path.
Amidst the aftermath, the Barrett family is split and each small cluster is trying to find the other through a wasteland of downed palms, floating debris and a cesspool of stray bodies. The cinematography is really quite striking with the shots used throughout the movie. It truly grabs your attention early on digging very deep into its audience’s attention without ever letting go over. Once we’re granted a reprieve from the destruction, we witness dire situations of frustration, debilitating scenarios of loss and beautiful moments of humility. It is an emotional ride that is executed brilliantly.
Ewan McGregor is obviously an accomplished actor. I must say though, that his work in this film is often overshadowed by his castmates. This is most often done by the young Tom Holland who plays McGregor and Watts’ oldest son, Lucas. Lucas is the glue that binds and Holland’s performance blew me away. Regardless of his age, it will be an artistic travesty if he is not nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor. The lad delivered emotion and relentless determination with the best of them throughout his entire performance. Naomi Watts gives a memorable performance as well from start to finish. We see her with a true paternal instinct on overload when she first opens her eyes after the tidal wave and goes into rescue mode. Still, it’s Tom Holland who seems to stand out from the rest of the family here.
The tribulations that each family member experiences are exceptionally portrayed. For one of the Barretts, it is their physical wounds to overcome. For another, it becomes the task of reuniting others while their own family is distanced. For some it is about coming of age and growing up faster than what was originally expected of you. The common thread for all, however, was surviving to become a family once again. The Impossible is the most gripping film I have seen in recent memory, and actually, let me correct myself. It’s not a movie you see, but rather one that is experienced.
I hope to never know first-hand what it is like to live through something like what the people in Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India did. With that being said, I think it’s incredibly important to appreciate a survivor’s struggle through that fateful day after Christmas 8 years ago in those countries. The Impossible tells the story with uncanny realism which becomes so emotionally profound and stirring, that it takes it to a place few films have reached. That accomplishment allows us to appreciate what so many people suffered through. Director Juan Antonio Bayona outdid himself in this 1-hour, 43-minute masterpiece. Shame on you if you fail to see this one in the theater.