The Impossible (2012)

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I’m going to start this review by addressing an issue that many others have debated since The Impossible hit cinema screens. Namely, accusations of racism. The film is based on the true story of a Spanish family who were caught up amidst the tragic events of the tsunami that hit Thailand (where the family where on holiday) as well as Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka, killing almost a quarter of a million people. If you’ve seen the trailer or cast list for the movie then you’ll notice that the leads are played by the distinctly non-Spanish Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor. The film has also been accused of ignoring many of the Asians who suffered in the disaster and focusing on just one all-white family in a manner disrespectful to everyone else involved. I don’t agree with the latter point as I think the movie does, at times, try to show a big picture that affected everyone at the time, but I do think the casting of the leads is a strange, and quietly disturbing, mistake. It was done to secure funding, and we should all know by now how much of showbusiness is really just business, but I can’t believe that director Juan Antonio Bayona couldn’t have given audiences the same movie with Spanish leads such as Banderas, Bardem, Cruz, etc. Subtitles STILL turn some people off so making the movie an English-language one is not a big deal, but making one that panders so obviously to some perceived optimum demographic just leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. And this is me talking, the guy who didn’t mind the casting choice of Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher, the guy who didn’t mind the casting of everyone (including . . . ummm . . . . Tom Cruise again) in Valkyrie because each case is unique. For the former movie, getting someone to match the physical appearance of the character from the books while also drawing in audiences would have been a stretch while in the case of Valkyrie, that was a tough sell and would need every extra name it could use to have any chance of doing well. In the case of The Impossible, the tsunami and the universal feelings and fears are the main aspects of the movie, the main selling points.

As shallow as I am, in many ways, IF the leads had produced performances so good that I couldn’t imagine anyone doing better then that opening paragraph above would have been very different. I have absolutely no problem with the best person landing the role, regardless of race or gender or any other factor that some may find divisive. Sadly, despite the praise heaped on Naomi Watts, there’s nothing here that stands out, performance-wise. If anything, McGregor does better in his role without the aid of the extra FX make up that Watts has.

Anyway, it’s something that I felt I couldn’t leave out of this review so there it is. Feel free to disagree strongly with me, as others already have, and feel free to consider me stupendously naive – I just think that all of the people saying “it would never have made as much money with a Spanish cast” are forgetting to take into account that we’ll never know until someone actually takes such risks.

Watts and McGregor play the parents who are separated from one another, and their children (one of whom is played by the superbly talented Tom Holland), during the tsunami. The film then follows the different family members as they struggle on with little to cling to except the hope that they will see each other alive again.

As for the rest of the movie, I should probably mention that it’s actually very good in places, most notably when the tsunami actually hits and director Juan Antonio Bayona shows the damage in both the small moments of individual endangerment and also the bigger picture. The script by Sergio G. Sanchez (based on Maria Belon’s story) has some decent moments, but there are also far too many lines that could have come straight from a standard TV drama based on the event. If you’re not sure what lines I’m referring to, just take your cue from the music that rises and falls and tells you how to feel during every moment.

I’m definitely going to be in the minority this time around, but I really can’t see why so much praise has been heaped on the movie and Watts, in particular (who is outshone by young Tom Holland in every scene that they share). There’s plenty onscreen that shows good use of the estimated €30,000,000 budget, but that still doesn’t detract from the fact that the movie fails to make the most of an opportunity to show the real pain and terror and loss and courage of the hundreds of thousands of people who were also part of the story.

Juan Antonio Bayona doesn’t ignore the others who were affected by the tsunami, but it’s hard to feel that he couldn’t have taken a better approach to the whole thing. It’s only a movie, many have said, and not supposed to be entirely accurate. That’s correct. So if you’re going to go “off the page” then why not move around and look at more incredible tales and moments from the events? Why not create a tapestry that would feel like a much more fitting tribute to those who died and those who survived? Why not take some risks and see how audiences reacted. Would that have been impossible?

DIRECTOR: JUAN ANTONIO BAYONA
WRITER: SERGIO G. SANCHEZ (STORY BY MARIA BELON)
STARS: NAOMI WATTS, EWAN MCGREGOR, TOM HOLLAND, SAMUEL JOSLIN, OAKLEE PENDERGAST, MARTA ETURA, SONKE MOHRING, GERALDINE CHAPLIN
RUNTIME: 114 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: SPAIN

Film Rating: ★★½☆☆

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