Friday, January 11, 2013

Difficult to Watch, Difficult to Look Away: The Impossible

Movie Review: The Impossible

Director: Juan Bayona

Reviewed: 7 January 2013

jamesintexas rating--***1/2

What makes a family?  In "The Impossible," Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts play couple Henry and Maria, who along with their three young children, stay at a resort in Thailand and are caught in the tsunami in Thailand on the day after Christmas 2004.  Based on real events, the film chronicles the family's separation, the horrific tsunami itself, as well as the devastating aftermath.  We follow the characters on their journeys through the wreckage, the hospitals, and streets of the beachfront, and although Bayona struggles with the end of the film, he has created an emotional and powerful film.

Acting is physical and embodying and moving as a character.  I can get caught up in the speeches, histrionics, the voices, and the craft, but sometimes a memorable performance is simply an actor doing something.  I think of Josh Brolin in "No Country For Old Men," with his wordless physicality.  Naomi Watts' now Oscar-nominated performance in "The Impossible is such a performance for the first half of the film with her wounded, relentlessness.  Her act of walking becomes as dramatic as it can be.  I wanted to see even more from her.  McGregor is fine as well as the father who confronts the mess and refuses to give up.  There is a scope to this film that is both limiting and freeing.  By only seeing the tsunami and its aftermath through the characters' eyes, we are pulled underwater with them in terrifying sequences.  However, we miss the greater worldwide context of the event, and there is no clumsy narration or summation or recitation of facts.  However, by that nature, there were times watching this film that I longed for the wider lens, the examination of this horrific event beyond its effect on just this one, privileged family.  The ending frustrated me.

For me, "The Impossible" earns its emotional moments, had me gasping and wincing, and the sequences of the waters rushing and the family trying to keep each other in sight is the highlight of the film.  The film's second half is less successful in its depiction of the chaos.  Bayona's sets are painstakingly realized, with a cast of thousands of extras covered in sand and blood, and the film points no fingers.  Instead, there are the acts of kindness that are unprompted, unexplained, unable to predict that move several of the characters around without payoffs or speeches.  Ultimately, "The Impossible" is about the triumph of the human spirit.  A last minute use of CGI to recreate an earlier scene does not work for me, and I think that it kept this film from achieving brilliance.  In fact, I think there were several moments towards the end where Bayona could have stopped the film and achieved an even more powerful effect.

"The Impossible" is a well-done film, and I recommend it.  It is mesmerizing at its best moments, as well as heart-breaking with its narrow focus on one family in one of the most terrible tragedies of our time.  I am glad to see McGregor and Watts deliver such fine performances, as well as the outstanding child actors who play their children.

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