Thursday, 24 January 2013
FILM REVIEW: THE IMPOSSIBLE
The title of course refers to the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, the likes of which the world had never before witnessed; a tidal wave pushed inland following an out-to-sea underground earthquake which proceeded killed more than 200,000 people across south-east Asia. But The Impossible also refers to the human spirit: it's capacity to endure and it's strength to overcome.
J.A. Bayona's second feature, and his first English language film after the accomplished Spanish horror, El Orfanato (The Orphanage), follows the plight of one family which endured and overcame in the aftermath of the tsunami, putting them -- and the audience -- through the wringer. That family are the Bennetts: mother Maria (Naomi Watts), father Henry (Ewan McGregor), and children Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast), an English family living in Japan and spending their Christmas vacation in Thailand.
Actually, the Bennetts are the Alvarez Belons, and not English but Spanish, and much has been made of the anglocizing of the family. But if Maria Belon, who worked closely with Bayona and screenwriter, Sergio. G. Sanchez, doesn't have a problem with this than I'm not sure why we should.
A more persuasive criticism of the film is its "whitewashing"; despite being set in Thailand, The Impossible is very much focussed on the Western survivors and has little time for the locals. They're depiction is never unkind but more cursory; blinkered (though not racist) is a valid argument. But I digress.
Like thousands of others on that fateful day, the Bennetts were going about their (holiday) business -- father and sons in the pool, mum reading a book poolside -- when the wave struck. And the tsunami sequence is one of the most impressive set pieces of cinema 2012. Shot in a large water tank in Europe, the sequence is awesomely realistic as we watch mother and eldest son pushed along by the surging waters, beaten and battered by debris.
Maria and Lucas manage to extricate themselves from the deluge and head for drier and higher ground, rescuing a European toddler along the way before locals rescue all three and transport the severely injured Maria to the nearest hospital. With his mother bedridden (Watts, Oscar nominated, suffers nobly) and his father and siblings presumably dead (Spoiler: they're not), Lucas has adult responsibility thrust upon him, and the young teen rises to the challenge. As does Holland.
The first time film actor, who played Billy Elliott on the stage in England and voiced a character in the English dub of Japanese animated feature, Arrietty (2010), is essentially the star of The Impossible and he more than adequately carries the bulk of the film.
And while we may be viewing the story through a child's eyes, Bayona, in spite of some sentimental tendencies and not-so-subtle emotional manipulation (not for nothing has his direction here been called 'Spielbergian'), doesn't skimp on the scope nor horror of the human and environmental devastation left in the wake of the tsunami.
That a nation, a region, and its people, let alone one family, could not only survive such an ordeal but carry on in the days, weeks and months following is a testament to the human spirit. The Impossible, despite its focus on one family, is a wonderfully heartfelt tribute to all those people.