Writers: Sergio G Sanchez
Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland
“Go and help people. You’re good at helping people.”
With the overly dramatic title, the ridiculously touched up posters with the glamorous Naomi Watts looking resilient in the golden Asian sun, and the recent track record of sweeping disaster movies, there was an unshakable feeling that the Impossible was going to be little more than a standard Oscar awards vehicle. Yet, despite these concerns it is actually a surprisingly well made and emotionally rattling film.
What at first appears to be a typically overly sentimental melodrama which cynically uses the backdrop of a catastrophic disaster to tug the heart strings, quickly reveals itself to be an uncomfortably tense and torturous ordeal – in a good way.
It is important to note that despite the blockbuster marketing, the Impossible is not a Hollywood production but rather a Spanish film in disguise. This is important because, unconstrained by the glossy demands of the typical blockbuster it does not shy away from the brutal realities of people being smashed square in the face by a Tsunami. The characters have to cope with terrifyingly violent conditions, awful wounds and stomach turning side effects. What begins as a sickeningly idyllic and luxurious Western holiday is soon stripped down into the blood and debris of a 2 star Newcastle bed a breakfast experience.
Director J.A Bayona handles the destructive scale and minute detail of the disaster with consummate ease, so much so it is difficult to tell whether the film crew mercilessly flattened the shores of Thailand all over again just to make their movie. There are none of the occasional moments of unintentional comedy of Titanic and the likes; just the cold sweat inducing reality of misery and pain. The stunning level of visual artistry is topped of with an unexpected surreal and haunting sequence not usually seen outside of an art house film. The only real frustration is with the constant and unnecessary use of the horror movie trick of building up tension with anything which makes a noise only to pull away to something mundane.
Yes there are a few too many weepy family moments for the bitter and twisted cynical wrecks most of us have become to swallow. It’s not that they are done badly but rather that the film tries so hard to reduce you to tears – it occasionally feels like you are one of the poor victims yourself being dragged in front of the TV crews and emotionally prodded until you give them real tears to film. Those of a more upbeat and happy disposition will no doubt be reduced to humiliating blubbing from the second the first wave hits.
There should also be some criticism aimed at the decision to use big name, glossy Hollywood actors speaking in an imaginary middle class English accent to help sell the story to a global audience. This is not a warts and all family recognisable to most people. It’s all a little too perfect and the characters have undoubtedly been “whitened up” a notch with golden blonde hair, immaculate skin, and accents honed by silver spoons. Obviously the world is not ready to accept and empathise with characters with Spanish nationality. Conveniently this issue is side stepped somewhat owing to the powerful performances given by Watts and Ewan McGregor. In the run up to the mutual masturbation orgy which is the awards season, it is Watts who has garnered most of the plaudits and attention with her portrayal of a proud mother struggling to connect with her surely teenager, all of which is a little harsh on McGregor who does just as well as a lost and powerless father forced to make difficult decisions and refusing to give up on his lost family. The job for the two adult leads is made immeasurably easier by the younger cast members who display a knack for understated realism not usually displayed by annoying children.
With the uncomfortable realities of a disaster relived so convincingly, and the draining effects of a film which is not satisfied until it has reduced even the most stone hearted to tears, this is not likely to be a favourite film re-watched on a regular basis but the Impossible is definitely a fine piece of film making.