Monday, January 14, 2013
The Impossible (*1/2)
Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona
The 2004 Tsunami disaster was one of the biggest natural disasters in our memory, an unrelenting force that blew through several countries and wrecked havoc unlike any we've ever seen. The Impossible takes a peak at this phenomenon through an interesting prism: an English family visiting a Thai beach resort. What follows is a brutal display of just how powerful and destructive this tsunami was through the eyes of a single family. We see just about all you'd expect from this kind of film, and lot of things you wouldn't expect. What we don't get though, is the tight, coherent film that this story deserves.
The film, directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGreggor play Maria and Henry Bennett, an English couple who take their three sons - Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast) - to Thailand to spend Christmas on the beach. The vacation or the part of it in which they actually get to take part in, is pretty beautiful equipped with beachside fires and Christmas mornings on the patio with a large pile of presents. The next day it starts only as a soft rumble, but quickly grows into a roar. Before anyone can prepare, the entire resort is engulfed with a forceful wall of water that wipes out everything in sight.
Maria is sent flying through a glass wall before being hurdled miles away past debris, tree branches, and even the occasional body. She manages to see Lucas' head bobbing as they both a sent flying through the dirty water, and eventually they're able to latch onto a tree and stay together, waiting for the wave to stop. When it finally settles and the water lowers, the true severity of Maria's injuries reveal themselves and - as a doctor - she begins to patch her wounds up with long grass and leaves, just hoping to relieve the excruciating pain. They are eventually found by natives who escort them to a ramshackle hospital, overcrowded with patients. While the doctors treat Maria, Lucas begins helping other find their lost family members.
Meanwhile, Henry is still at the now-broken resort building with Thomas and Simon. He spends most of his time walking about the destruction barefoot screaming to find Maria and Lucas. He even lets Simon and Thomas leave him behind while they go to safer ground so he can stay behind and keep looking. His determination, so strong and true, stands that he will have his family reunited and all together. I imagine that this is the "impossible" that is being referenced in the title, and its at this moment that you realize how this movie's going to end. Okay, I may have just spoiled this movie, but don't worry; you don't want to see it anyway.
Too often, it seemed like Bayona and his cast were trying to make two different films. Bayona utilizes a lot of special effects in the film's tsunami moments, which simply destroys any of the intimacy that the actors create with their mostly sincere performances. Naomi Watts, fresh off an Oscar nomination for her performance, has the holy hell beat out of her by this tsunami, and Bayona surrounds her with violence that is not only sobering but grotesque. Watts is fine enough in the role - after all, she's almost always good - but its hard to feel like she has a whole lot to do in this movie other than writhe in horrific pain. The movie's best moments come from McGreggor, whose brilliance on the screen continues to be unsung. McGreggor, not hampered by Bayona's seeming fascination with the violent aspects of the storm, brings the true heartbreak and catharsis this story deserves.
Bayona's first film was The Orphanage, which was produced by Guillermo Del Toro. It makes sense that Bayona would be a Del Toro disciple, since there are more scenes in The Impossible that want to make your stomach queazy than make you care about this family. The fact that this film is totally whitewashed is unfortunate, but not something that really bothers me. This is a true story (though the real family was Spanish, not English) that they decided to tell. I'm far more sobered by how a story that could have been touching is instead a borderline horror movie. Perhaps that was the point. How many natural disaster movies have been made that were squishy and sentimental? They're a dime a dozen. I'm not totally sure that this is the correct alternative.