the impossible | my movie review

Posted on February 14, 2013


I’m slowly working my way through the latest cinema releases. The latest of which was The Impossible.
The Impossible is Juan Antonio Bayona’s first mainstream movie. He made the creepy El Orfanato [The Orphanage] back in 2008, which was an effectively chilling Spanish horror movie. For his debut English language movie he’s not gone for an easy movie to make!
The Impossible is the true story of one family amongst hundreds of thousands of others, who were caught up in the horror of the tsunami of 2004 that hit Thailand.

The movie purports to tell the true story of the Alvarez Belons, who in reality are a Spanish family of five who survived the worst natural disaster of the modern age. However for reasons that could only simply boil down to the fact that they want to make as much money as possible – they have been transplanted with a very well to do English family! They arrive on Christmas Eve to the idyllic Thai beach resort, spend Christmas Day enjoying the peace and then tragedy hits. They are separated and we spend time with each of the parents and searching for the rest of their family. The fact that we know they survive does little to distract from the trauma and pain they experience in the hunt for each other and their children.

It wasn’t a very easy film to watch – for two very different reasons.
I’ll start with the actors. All of whom do a good job with Naomi Watts giving everything physically and mentally to her role [still not as good as her turn in 21 Grams], and the very believable Tom Holland as Lucas, the oldest of their three sons, who does a great job in a part that demands a lot of emotion, and is for all intents and purposes the main character of the movie. Ewan McGregor is watchable but only on a few occasions did I buy into his character.
Direction and production of the first half of the film is faultless. In fact I don’t think I breathed at all during the first 30 minutes as people are tossed around underwater like limp seaweed, smashing into objects! Bayona brilliantly draws you into the horror that unfolds for these people, bringing the painful memories of the disaster back to the forefront of our minds.
The surrounding devastation and the inhabitants who this family come into contact with are spot on and you feel completely drawn into the environment.
However after the first half things start to get a little patchy. As this fractured family unit desperately search for each other, the occasions where they *just* miss each other in corridors, on streets, on stairwells, all becomes a little too much, a little too manipulative. *Yes* we know that the way of building tension is to throw in a few “almost” found each other situations, but three, four, five times? Really? Was this the best way to portray the insurmountable odds that they had to go through to be reunited.
The blatantly sentimental soundtrack was most distracting and was not [or at least shouldn’t be] necessary if the movie was doing it’s job effectively. By the end I just felt really manipulated and deeply unmoved by the whole thing, which was a shame given the impactful first half and the subject matter.
It’s a very similar feeling that I experienced after watching the uber-hyped Spielberg movie Saving Private Ryan. A movie whose first act is breathtaking and gut-wrenchingly realistic [or so I’m told!] leaving you exhausted from the experience, but sadly develops into a rather unconvincing, unemotional story. I felt very much the same watching The Impossible.

The most powerful message that this movie delivers is that despite the cultural gap between them all, when all the materialism is stripped away, when the possessions are gone… it is our willingness and ability to help and care for others amidst our own distress that shows we are really all the same underneath. We all experience the same feelings when faced with circumstances of loss and suffering. Whether we choose to acknowledge and help those people we see suffering *knowing* that we can make a difference, is a testament to our character and priorities. The human spirit is a strong force, and that is what we witness here.

“Then the king will say to those on His right, “When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, thirsty, you gave me something to drink. A stranger, you welcomed me, when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me.
Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, “When did we give you something to eat or drink? When did we welcome you as a stranger or give you clothes to wear or visit you while you were sick or in jail?”
The king will answer, “Whenever you did it for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.”
Then the king will say to those on His left, “Get away from me! …I was hungry, but you did not give me anything to eat, and I was thirsty, but you did not give me anything to drink. I was a stranger, but you did not welcome me, and I was naked, but you did not give me any clothes to wear. I was sick and in jail, but you did not take care of me.”
Then the people will ask, “Lord, when did we fail to help you when you were hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in jail?”
The king will say to them, “Whenever you failed to help any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you failed to do it for me.”   Matthew 25:31-46

Finally, I need to mention the 12A rating. I was shocked that it was this low, given the nature of the movie there are really uncomfortable moments of terror, visually it’s quite shocking – particularly the injuries that people have sustained. It made me flinch a few times – and I’m used to this kind of thing. I dare not imagine what lasting effect these images would have on the very young. I wouldn’t say this movie is suitable for anyone younger than 15. Once again the BBFC proving that it’s the responsibility of the parents to watch movies *before* they let their kids watch them to make sure they are appropriate.

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