The Impossible (Summit Entertainment, PG-13)

impossible sqThe tsunami sequence alone is absolutely worth your price of admission, and trust me in that you’re going to want to see this one on the big screen.


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Living in a landlocked state like Missouri, certain types of natural disasters are kind of lost on me. Not that I don’t care when they happen, but, for example, when a hurricane hits a coastal city, it’s hard for my feeble brain to parse exactly what that means and what it’s like for the people who have to live through it. Good thing I watch a lot of movies, then! I’ve commented in the past that I like it when I can get “life experience” just from watching movies and not from, you know, living life, and the new Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage) film The Impossible is great for that—after having watched it, I feel like I will never again have trouble mentally latching onto the devastation of a tsunami.

The Impossible is based on the true story of a Spanish family of five who was vacationing in southern Thailand when the tsunami hit the day after Christmas in 2004. For the film, the family is nationality-switched from Spanish to British, which might seem weird given the director’s Spanish heritage, but then less weird when you consider it tends to be easier to get gigantic budgets for your movie if you use an English-speaking cast. The three main characters here are mother Maria (Naomi Watts), father Henry (Ewan McGregor), and oldest son Lucas (Tom Holland), whose arc is the biggest—before the tsunami hits he’s kind of a bratty kid, but afterward he becomes the one most able to successfully regroup both his own family and other peoples’ families. Able-bodied, he spends a lot of time in the hospital keeping his mom company, and his capacity to quickly move around amongst the masses makes him a hot commodity in a place where everyone is separated from their loved ones, and very few people are as ambulatory as they’d like to be.

While I like the cast a lot (minus Holland, weirdly, as everyone else seems to be fawning over his performance) and the plot is serviceable, there is a touch of Saving Private Ryan syndrome here, in that the only real reason to see that movie was the war scenes and the only reason to see The Impossible is for the tsunami sequence. That isn’t necessarily to say that the rest of the film is poorly done, but the tsunami is handled so realistically and viscerally, it’s hard to not be kind of let down by the rest of the film, especially considering the tsunami comes so soon in the film’s running time. Still, the tsunami sequence alone is absolutely worth your price of admission, and trust me in that you’re going to want to see this one on the big screen. We’re not talking about a three-minute chunk of the film here, either—the tsunami takes up a good percentage of the film’s running time, much like the war scenes in Saving Private Ryan did there.

I actually had a friend who was in Thailand when the tsunami came eight years ago (he was fine), and even so, The Impossible really went a lot farther toward making me understand the whole thing than any news stories or anything else I’ve come across before. So now we Missourians need to start giving back, and making really powerful movies about tornado devastation. | Pete Timmermann

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