A family taking Christmas vacation in Thailand are caught up in a tsunami that decimated the region and caused legions of casualties. Some of them even got very sick in very disgusting ways. Henry (Ewan McGregor) has a great job in Japan which brought he, his doctor wife Maria (Naomi Watts) and three children, Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin), and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast) away from their home in the UK. Henry is a little worried that he might lose that job and have to return to the UK and be a stay-at-home father. Early one morning, they go out to the pool area and while having a generally pleasant time, feel a slight tremor. The birds and the beasts know something is wrong. Then the first wave comes. Everyone is scattered. Lucas and Maria spot each other across the rushing water. Then the second wave comes. They finally come together and try to make their way to safety.
The Impossible (2012), directed by J.A. Bayona, is the story of the devastation in southern Asia from the perspective of an anglophone family. It’s a true story (of a Spanish family) and Bayona’s telling of it courts detractors from virtually every corner. Sentimental, western-centered, manipulative, disaster porn, xenophilic, heavy-handed, superficial, and more are terms that can and have been applied to this movie. There’s a hook to hang each of those words, but some are smaller than the others and none amount to a deal-breaker for all but the single-issue movie goer. The biggest problem I had with the movie was in the storytelling; its slack pacing and choice of structure (written by Sergio G. Sánchez). I’ll add that while I thought I knew how the story ended, I was half-mistaken, so if that’s what is keeping you away from this movie, then you should reconsider.
As a story, there isn’t very much. There is a short survival period, then a long recuperation period, a searching period, and then the survivors leave the country. Not much there for moving drama (unless you count the moving of your stomach). What plot points exist are squeezed into a three or four minute sequence that would move the Grinch (read: me) to tears. The rest is a painful waiting around or limping about. If we didn’t have that big climax, the movie might have survived on its brutal credibility. However, that climax, my expectation for it, and hang-over from it kept me from breathing in these dark times because I was looking around the narrative corners for resolution. But I looked without information. I kept thinking, “Why aren’t these relatively healthy people donating blood? Why isn’t there an active presence organizing survivors to reconnect them with their families?” In other words, I was the kind of viewer that I despise. The one faulting the movie because it wasn’t the one I decided I wanted. Why didn’t the movie answer the questions that were not necessary to driving the plot or exposing the character? That’s like asking why Ashley Judd trips so much when she runs away from her pursuers.
I’m sorry to say that I saw the movie in streaming standard definition, so couldn’t quite experience Óscar Faura‘s cinematography. What I did see, however, was not worthy of the high praise I had heard. Four or five of the disaster shots were almost identical and what should have been the best images (Watt’s mid-tsunami experience) were very fine, but too brief to dwell. Most of the movie felt like that, like I finished the movie and instantly forgot everything but being nauseated and tearfully happy.