Review: The Impossible (Bayona, 2012)

Disaster films often face harsh criticism from critics and cinema-goers alike, mainly for their preposterousness and uninspiring performances from the main cast, but then there are those very few exceptions which are a complete contrast, and The Impossible ranks as one of finest, breath-taking and emotionally powerful disaster films for some time.

Based on a true story, The Impossible follows a family who were separated when the Tsunami of Boxing Day 2004 hit their hotel resort in Thailand. The lead performances are the film’s greatest strength, with Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor as the parents of the family, and the incredible newcomer to cinema which is Tom Holland as the eldest son. Watts is superb; she entrances the audience with her emotion, to the extent to which you can almost feel the distress, horror and physical pain that she is enduring.  Tom Holland is the strongest of child actors to make the big screen, and works brilliantly with Watts throughout the film as a son who is not completely hopeless. He is essential to his mother’s survival, providing the support worthy of a fully grown husband figure, whilst listening and aiding her, but also trying to tackle the situation he is in, taking on a realistic and hardened viewpoint on what outcome is possible for them, and challenging his mother on what they must do, and what they need to accept. These two are receiving much recognition for their roles, and rightfully so.

Ultimately though, the star of this film has to be Ewan McGregor, who gives not only the finest performance of his career, but one worthy of an Oscar nomination. McGregor has maintained a string of decent and solid performances throughout his career  but nothing compares to the role he throws himself into in The Impossible. You will not see a more accurate portrayal of a man who has lost nearly everything he loves, and the psychological strength required to accept it and continue hoping. Even for the hardest of souls, it will be hard to fight back a lump in your throat at McGregor’s scenes; with the best scene of the film being where he calls home whilst looking for his wife and son. The fact he didn’t earn an Oscar nomination or attract international recognition from that scene alone is to me a pure talent being dismissed.

While the acting in this film is definitely its main strength, it also boast impressive (and admirably restrained) special effects. It goes beyond the pure incident which occurs, and although the Tsunami scene itself is beautiful (with an excellent set of sound effects I may add), the film rises above this, and addresses in depth the consequences of it, and how it is dealt with practically and emotionally.

There is, however, and issue with this, and that is regarding the decision to certificate this film a 12A. With the amount of emotional stress and extremely explicit injury detail throughout this film, in some respects it could be considered a horror film, which adults may find upsetting, and for children under 12 it may seem way too much to bear. This is not a direct criticism of the film, as it is executed very well by Spanish director J.A Bayona who gave us the magnificent The Orphanage several years back, as it is of course down to the parent’s decision whether or not to take their children, but for many this film may feel more suited for a 15 certificate.

The Impossible carries the slightly cynical question of why the family in the film is British, despite being based on a Spanish family’s story. It may well be for profit, to use a well-known set of names to attract income, or it could be to emphasise the horrors that British families went through at that time. It is possible that had it been a Spanish language film, a more accurate story would have been told, but that is just a matter of speculation.

Nevertheless, The Impossible marks a landmark achievement for disaster films; it is a strong, powerful and emotional journey of loss, courage and psychological strength. The cast are superb and give performances of their careers, and undoubtedly will be featured heavily at this year’s Academy Awards along with other honours which the film overwhelmingly deserves, even if it is too graphic and emotional for some to endure.



Ellis Whitehouse