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Sunday, 27 January 2013

THIS WEEK: The Impossible

0 - No Redeeming Feature

1 - Poor

2 - Passable

3 - Good.  Rent it.

4 - Excellent!

5 - Must See!!


What effectively appears to be a blockbuster disaster movie is perhaps one we would expect to come out of the Cameron or Spielberg canon, so when we see the name Juan Antonio Bayona, a director who is possibly unfamiliar to many who haven't seen The Orphanage, we are surprised and curious.  Upon closer inspection, The Impossible is in fact the incredible true account of a Spanish family's experience when the worst natural disaster Thailand has ever known hit in the form of a tsunami.  Many of us recall the disaster and its fallout, but this film takes us up close, following this one family's story, from their arrival, though their separation, to their departure.

Now there has been complaint from certain quarters that the film somehow does a disservice to the family by making them white Brits, rather than sticking to the reality that they are Spanish.  There is also claim that, by focusing on this one fortunate family's survival, the movie arrogantly disregards the experiences of those indigenous to the country, and those whose experiences were not so fortunate.  I find the prior accusation petty, and the latter ludicrous.  In casting big names Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor in the lead roles, they simply ensure that the budget necessary for the production is more likely to be granted, and covered; the story of the family is still honoured well. The idea that somehow we ignore the plight of anybody else is just silly; certain moments in the movie, and in particular the beautifully conceived final scene, touch very well on the fact that many were not so lucky.  The title of the film itself ties in with Bayona's intent to illustrate just how rare the sort of good fortune it depicts was, and the family are shown to clearly understand this.  I am flabbergasted people are reading it any other way, to be honest.
The first ten minutes of this movie are filled with a tension; the fact we know what comes next makes the setup of Maria and Henry's great relationship with their boys, Lucas, Thomas and Simon somehow more distressing.  The next forty minutes are truly a technical miracle; never before have I been in a cinema feeling quite so overwhelmed by the depiction of a natural disaster.  Bayona uses incredible miniature sets, real water, terrifying use of sound, and superb in-camera make-up to stunning effect, forcing us to endure the entire tsunami as mother and son do.  We follow Maria and Lucas' events for about an hour before cutting over to Henry, Thomas and Simon.  I will say that there is, for me, something lacking in the second act of the film, but this is possibly because the first has blown you away to such an extent, the devastated quietness of what follows feels naturally muted.

This said, the performances carry through very well; McGregor is heartbreaking, and particular note has to be given to all the boys, who we adore pretty much on the spot.  I would also suggest keeping an eye open for Tom Holland, who plays Lucas; his arc and the maturity of his performance feels so wonderfully natural, it is a struggle to believe his only experience has been as Billy Elliott on stage, and voicing a character in 2010's Arrietty.  Naomi Watts has been nominated for a Best Actress Oscar, and whilst I suspect she will not win, I can say I have not seen her giving such a physical and emotionally draining performance, and that if you only see her in this and Eastern Promises, you might be forgiven for believing she is English.

This film does drain you; by the time you leave the movie, you do feel a little washed out, and thankful that in the end this is a story of human triumph over adversity and a celebration of spirit, rather than the dour tale it could have threatened to be.  Despite a second act lacking the kinetic force of the first, and the fact that Watts and Holland are really the more compelling characters and performances, and despite some moments where the gorgeous score does seem to teeter on being too much, overall this is a recommended experience.  I have no idea why it is not nominated for production design and sound editing, because it should wipe the floor in those categories.


At cinemas now.

Catch it if you like:  Natural disaster movies, or intense, emotional drama.

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