Movie review: 'The Impossible' an uplifting story of frightening event

Even though you know deadly disaster lurks around the bend, you think, what a lucky family.

What an idyllic getaway for Christmas -- a beachfront resort in Thailand, glowing lanterns drifting into the inky sky, full moon reflected in the shimmering water, brilliantly colored fish coursing through the clear current, orchids perfuming the lush greenery.

Brits Maria (Naomi Watts) and Henry (Ewan McGregor) and their three boys, visiting from Japan where they make their home, are primed for the holiday of a lifetime, and that's just what they get but not in the way they imagined.

'The Impossible'

4 stars = Outstanding
Ratings explained

  • Starring:

    Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland.

  • Rating:

    PG-13 for intense realistic disaster sequences, including disturbing injury images and brief nudity.

They are caught in the jaws of the tsunami that slams and slaps everyone and everything with torrents of water. Trees snap, debris clogs the rushing waves and the eldest boy, Lucas (Tom Holland), is washed away as he calls, "Help me. Get me out of here."

Soon, Maria is beseeching him for assistance, and she's left bloody and battered as the pair cling to a tree for, literally, dear life. Her face is bruised and she has a huge bleeding gash on her leg while the length of his back is marked, too.

By the time they are transported to an overrun, chaotic hospital, there are still no signs of Henry and the younger boys or a guarantee that Maria's injuries can be treated in time.

"The Impossible" follows the story of a doctor (Maria's job by training although her practice is on hold) turned patient and of a child who must muster maturity and turn his attention to others -- just as the locals did for him and his mum.

The movie is based on the story of a Spanish family, but the watery terror experienced by the vacationers and subsequent kindness demonstrated by strangers was real and is remarkably staged by director J.A. Bayona.

He made his feature-film debut with 2008's "The Orphanage," a Spanish-language supernatural drama in which a woman discovers dark secrets hidden in her childhood home, an orphanage by the sea. "The Impossible" reunites him with "Orphanage" screenwriter Sergio G. Sanchez, working from a story by Maria Belon.

The re-creation of the catastrophe here is jaw-dropping in its ferocity and frightfulness. But the movie is equally adept at tapping into the family members' feelings, and, months after seeing it, I remember tears dripping onto my blouse.

Ms. Watts deserves a best actress Oscar nomination and young Tom Holland, one of the Billy Elliots on the London stage, easily handles the physical and emotional rigors of the role. Mr. McGregor and, as the younger boys, Oaklee Pendergast and Simon Joslin, beautifully round out the cast, which also counts Geraldine Chaplin (also in "The Orphanage") in a small role.

The monster 2004 quake and tsunami killed an estimated 230,000 people in a dozen countries. "The Impossible" draws from the lucky and miraculous side of the life-and-death ledger, making for a rare, risky story but an uplifting one, too.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: or 412-263-1632. Read her blog: First Published January 4, 2013 5:00 AM


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