The Impossible feels like a little-film-that-could because of its late release date. Which is funny because the film itself miraculously captures the intensity and the devastating outcomes of a cataclysmic tsunami – which is something big budget blockbusters long to do.
J.A. Bayona’s The Impossible is a fantastic film with harrowing performances by Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts (who has earned a well deserved Oscar nomination for her role) as well as the young actors who play the couple’s children (from oldest to youngest: Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, and Oaklee Pendergast).
It’s a blessing that these actors are capable of captivating us, because The Impossible starts off a tad disarming. It’s a way of storytelling I wouldn’t have expected in an emotional drama – and something that could’ve easily been retooled in pre-production.
The family is introduced to audiences in the same way a team of heroes would be if they were in a horror movie. Moviegoers find out brief mannerisms about Watts and McGregor (McGregor is a worrywart while Watts sweats over airplane turbulence). We also find out there may be some financial worries with McGregor’s job, but all that is quickly swept away once the pivotal tsunami intrudes the family’s vacation.
One starts to worry that there won’t be an emotional connection to these characters – who are also, in fact, based on real life people. However, those worries are abolished once the natural disaster strikes and we see our caring heroes at work, trying to survive.
Bayona’s orchestration of this event will have audiences awestruck and wincing. The magnitude of the special effects as well as practical effects successfully emulates a real tsunami. As we see people being whisked away by the violent waters and watch Watts tumble through sharp debris as she flounders trying to keep up with her son, moviegoers will marvel at the technical achievements, but feel compelled to look away when we see the injuries and fatalities pile up.
The Impossible’s title refers to the quest the family is on – trying to reconnect, reassemble, and reunite after a cataclysmic event. In order to establish that separation anxiety and pull those emotions out of an audience, Bayona and screenwriter Sergio G. Sanchez use script writing tools such as time and coincidences as well as a sweeping musical score in their favour.
However, what sounds like a filmmaking team cloying for emotional reactions using cheap techniques, isn’t that at all. It gets away with it because the film does a terrific job at taking us on every step of this relentless journey and making us sincerely care for our heroes.
We may not know a lot about the troubled family going into the disaster, but because they come across as good-hearted people, we just want to see these characters succeed and be happy. It’s more than enough to keep us rooting for them throughout the film.
Another thing. The Impossible improves in an area that festival favourite Beasts of the Southern Wild left me frustrated with. Pardon me for comparing both films, but both films show a disaster through the eyes of a youngster. Beasts left me underwhelmed because even though it successfully showed the event through the eyes of young Hushpuppy, it also showed us that the adult world is a mystery to her as well – which is maddening if the viewer wanted to know more about the community around Hushpuppy.
The Impossible’s Lucas (played by Holland, who steals every scene he’s in) is a bit older than Hushpuppy, but this is helpful because the slightly more mature vision gives us answers the aforementioned indie film didn’t. Holland flawlessly shows the confusion and fear a youth has during a disaster such as this, as well as that initiative to take on a leadership role when his Mother is in peril. Lucas also helps people around him try to reunite with their families. Again, that confusion and leadership drive is in full force and the results are heartwarming.
Along with all the great things going for it, The Impossible will guarantee a perpetual lump in your throat. I didn’t bawl myself, but that tendency to turn on the waterworks definitely lingers.
The film may have saddening moments, but that shouldn’t drive you away. The fantastic performances, the hauntingly beautiful cinematography, and the talented filmmaking should, in fact, pull you in.