The Impossible, the true story of a family that was caught in the horror of the 2004 tsunami that killed over 230,000 people is an intensely visceral experience that produces a physical reaction as you watch the ocean rip through the land leaving behind utter devastation.
Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor are Maria and Henry, a couple vacationing with their three children at a beach resort in Thailand during the Christmas holidays. Through the eyes of this real life family, the viewer is put at the center of the violent and deadly natural disaster in an immediate and palpable way that no news account can match. It is a transfixing sight to see the family swept away and separated from each other by the rushing, massive wave of water that scatters the people on the beach like pieces on a game board.
The film traces an injured Maria’s struggle to survive with the help of her eldest son, 13-year old Lucas (Tom Holland) and Henry’s desperate search to find the two. Tom Holland is commanding as Lucas in an authentic and deeply moving performance as a typical self-absorbed teenage boy who transforms into a fierce protector of his mother and advocate of those in need around them. Naomi Watts is equally affecting as a mother determined to stay alive for the sake of her son and quietly touching yet strong as the roles reverse and she must let her son take care of her.
Ewan McGregor gives a heartfelt performance and makes you feel the emotional resolve of the determined father keeping it together for his two young sons and unwavering in his quest to find Maria and Lucas.
Director Juan Antonio Bayona has a tight rein of his subject and story and there isn’t an extraneous moment or scene throughout. The cinematography and visually realistic special effects are outstanding and integral to why the movie has a true sense of authenticity and urgency. You never once experience that disconnected sense of reality that so often results from CGI.
The Impossible is an emotionally riveting film that brings you face to face with what countless numbers of people lost that December day in 2004 and how amid the chaos and ruin the survivors came together in that uniquely human expression of hope and the will to survive against the most formidable of circumstances.