Tsunami tale recreates confusion and terror
THE IMPOSSIBLE (12A) ★★★★
MOTHER NATURE is a cruel mistress. She can nurture and nourish, and conjure new life in the most desolate regions, yet she can also destroy without warning or mercy. On December 26, 2004, while many in the West were bloated with post- Christmas excess, communities across southern Asia faced unimaginable devastation.
An earthquake off the coast of northern Sumatra displaced huge volumes of water, resulting in a massive tsunami that ripped through the region, razing lush wilderness and luxury resorts packed with vacationing families. Thousands of people were killed and many more were left homeless by a wall of roaring, churning water.
‘ This is the true story of one of those families,’ declares The Impossible, a harrowing drama about five people caught up in the disaster, who mustered formidable strength and courage to search for each other amid scenes of heartbreaking loss.
Adapted by screenwriter Sergio G Sanchez from the nightmarish recollections of survivors Maria and Enrique Belon, Juan Antonia Bayona's film packs a mighty emotional punch with every expertly crafted frame. There but for the grace of God and Mother Nature go all of us.
Henry (Ewan McGregor) and Maria (Naomi Watts) arrive in the tropical paradise of Thailand with their three sons, Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast). They open Christmas presents on the patio overlooking the sea, unaware of the horror to come. The following day, flocks of terrified birds take to the skies, heralding a wall of water that careens through the complex.
Maria and Lucas are carried away by the surge and when the water eventually recedes, they hobble through mud and detritus in search of survivors. Meanwhile, Henry is forced to leave his two youngest boys in the care of strangers in order to learn the fate of his wife and eldest child. ‘I've never looked after anyone before. I'm scared,’ pleads seven-year-old Thomas, to no avail.
Directed with aplomb by Bayona, The Impossible recreates the tsunami using giant water tanks to drench the lead cast, augmented with digital effects that give a sense of the confusion and terror that fateful winter's day.
Watts wrings out copious tears as a critically ill mother who puts on a brave face in front of her terrified boy.
McGregor has the less showy role but still tugs heartstrings with an anguished telephone call back home to distraught relatives, his voice cracking with every shell-shocked word.
Teenage newcomer Holland impresses most, bearing the emotional weight of deeply moving scenes as if he has been acting all of his life. He doesn't strike a false note as the camera stares unflinching into his bloodshot eyes.
Staring back is a boy forced to cast aside childish things in order to make life-or-death decisions that could leave him orphaned in a foreign land.
Naomi Watts in The Impossible.