The Impossible (Lo Imposible)

Directed By: J.A. Bayona

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast, Geraldine Chaplin, Marta Etura, and Simon Blyberg

There's always some tragedy on the news related to a natural disaster.  Earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes leave paths of devastation marked by unthinkable death tolls and billions of dollars in damages.  When we see it on the news, we often get the big picture.  It's completely understandable because it's impossible to look at devastation on a personal level for each and every person impacted.  It's just not practical.  However, we often lack a thorough understanding of the breadth and depth of these disasters.  We don't think about each individual's journey to hell.  Well, J.A. Bayona has decided to take a personal look at the true struggle of one Spanish family in the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami with The Impossible.

Henry and Maria (Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts) are taking their sons Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin), and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast) to Thailand for Christmas.  Upon arriving, they have a wonderful time as they celebrate the holidays in style.  The day after Christmas however, tragedy strikes.  A tsunami devastates Southeast Asia.  Like many others, the family is swept away by a vicious tidal wave ravaging the land.  The disaster literally rips this family apart.  Maria is nearly killed by the crushing waves and the deadly debris.  She's strong though, and she has her son Lucas at her side.  Meanwhile, Henry awakens to the horror of not knowing where any of his family members are and whether they're still alive.

With The Impossible, J.A. Bayona takes us on a heartbreaking emotional journey in a surprisingly intimate setting.  With incredible special effects, he vividly recreates one of the most devastating natural disasters in human history.  Despite this depiction of mass carnage, Bayona anchors the film around three characters — Maria, Henry, and Lucas.  With towering performances from Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, and Tom Holland, Bayona does the impossible and brings massive tragedy down to a personal level.  While hundreds of thousands have lost their lives, Bayona focuses on one family's struggle to endure.

I am simply stunned by the fact that Bayona has been able to recreate the tsunami and the aftermath.  I find myself thinking back to Clint Eastwood's Hereafter and the fictional tsunami depicted in that film.  While it was certainly impressive, Bayona takes this natural disaster to a whole new level with unbelievable special effects.   He takes his star Naomi Watts on a brutal, unending journey with furious waves continuously pushing her under water and sharp debris piercing her flesh on countless occasions.  It is one of the most horrific sequences I've ever watched on the big screen.  After this nightmarish journey, Bayona gives us a tour of hell on earth.  He gives us grand, sweeping images of carnage and chaos.  He gives us a world engulfed in seawater.  He gives us innumerable cadavers lying in one big watery grave.  The Impossible might just be the ultimate disaster movie.

As much as Bayona puts mass devastation on display in The Impossible, he makes the film a very intimate affair focused on this one Spanish family.  He anchors the movie around a slate of strong performances by his three principal actors.  As matriarch of the family Maria, Naomi Watts may just give the best performance of her career.  I feel every bit of her character's pain throughout the movie.  She conveys so much with so little throughout The Impossible and gives her character an enduring will to live.  While her painful struggle through the tsunami itself definitely stands out in the film, Watts is at her best when her character's body is broken and she's staring death right in the face.  When you look into Watts's eyes at this point in the film, it's like looking into a person's soul.  She makes it abundantly clear that she's ready to die. 

As Henry, Ewan McGregor also delivers an emotional, moving performance.  In the chaos of this natural disaster, he gives us a man who will do anything to find his loved ones.  The Salmon Fishing in the Yemen star is at the top of his game here.  Equally impressive, Tom Holland gives a touching performance as his son Lucas.  This scared little boy is forced to step up to the plate and take care of his ailing mother Maria while grappling with the likely possibility that his father and brothers have perished.  Holland portrays him with heart and fortitude.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the moving score from Fernando Velásquez or the outstanding makeup work done for Naomi Watts' Maria.  With his beautiful compositions, Velásquez underscores the trials and tribulations of this family and the devastation that Bayona creates on screen.  The makeup job for Naomi Watts is excellent as well.  The makeup department makes it evident that Watts's Maria has been to hell and back with this tsunami.

The Impossible is an emotionally exhausting film but a powerful experience.  I can't quite find the right words to describe what I saw in this movie, but I know that it was incredible.  The film is simply jaw-dropping.  I'm sure I'm not the first to say that the movie is pretty depressing, nor am I the first to say that it is moving.  However, I can be the first to say that The Impossible gets a sober rating.  While the film is incredibly well done, I would understand if you need a drink or two to get through this one.  It's one hell of an experience that may change the way you view natural disasters.