The Impossible opens with a terrible rumble sound. If you know what the story is about, you are immediately filled with a sense of dread that lingers long into the film until you realise the impossible has been achieved. The film is technically accomplished, brilliantly acted by the big stars and not as insensitive as the story of a family of foreigners affected by the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami tragedy could have been.
Sadly the decision to cast Watts and McGregor to enable the film to have a big budget and sell to a large audience is necessary to attract attention and the level of investment needed to do the story justice. It is a shame that a real Spanish family become a British family in the film and that the deaths of 230,000 people are not the focus but on the other hand as a story of one family's experience of the disaster, The Impossible excels. The disaster is too huge for one film and so like World Trade Centre before it, The Impossible narrows its focus.
Though the film focuses on foreigners, the local people emerge as the real heroes. The hospital staff, villagers and others show incredible determination, sympathy and strength in the face of one of the worst natural disasters in history.
Tsunami survivors are unlikely to find The Impossible entertaining or have a desire to see it but this is because it is an incredible recreation of what happened; sickening, horrifying and breathtakingly realised.
For those not directly affected by the real life events depicted, it is enjoyable to an extent because although it is incredibly tragic, there is also so much hope and happiness (if just for this one family) in the film. However it is a tough watch and unbelievably sad, made more so by the bravura filmmaking and performances.
The eldest kid Lucas played by Tom Holland is amazing, carrying much of the film and doing a brilliant job. The two youngest kids waver a little bit but not enough to do any damage. McGregor is superb particularly in one heart wrenching sequence involving a phone call home, while Watts’ glamour and beauty are left bruised, battered and utterly redundant in the face of what her character endures. The production design is so convincing and the many extras around must have really helped all the actors, but especially the kids.
The moment the wave hits leads to an incredibly visceral sequence that is terrifying, shocking and impossible to take your eyes off the screen. The sound design, cinematography and practical effects combine to create a sickening sense of what it would have been like to be there. It is astonishing filmmaking; heart breaking and relentless and completely unforgettable.
Moments of the film may be sentimental but it's a story that does truly seem impossible. If Hollywood had made it up you would likely be disgusted. But the sentimental stuff is handled well and with the exception of a couple of scenes, it is not overly manipulative.
Real life tragedies deserve big screen treatments if they are handled sensitively and this film stands as a testament to the Thai people and their selflessness in the face of utter despair. What isn't appropriate is showing the trailer in front of The Hobbit without a warning. People should be able to choose whether or not they wish to be assaulted by such a film and the thought of somebody being ‘ambushed’ by the images in the trailer is saddening.
I hope that people will see the film and realise how wonderful the Thai people are and hopefully future generations can get a sense of what a tragedy it was.
The Impossible is a huge emotional and technical accomplishment. It manages to tell the small story of one family in a huge disaster and sensitively portray both the intimate and the epic of the tragedy. Though the focus is on a foreign family, half-drowned and lucky to be alive, it is the local people who surface as the heroes. The performances are amazing, aided in no small part by the incredible production design and terrifyingly real special effects.
The Impossible is a very powerful film, incredibly moving and emotionally devastating. Along with United 93, it is one of the most realistic depictions of a real life tragedy you will ever see. It is impossible to remain unaffected by the plight of the people in the story and by the credits it is impossible to move from your seat. Hopefully some of the profits will be put to good use in the places affected by the disaster.The Impossible is easily an early contender for my top 10 of 2013.