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Film Review: The Impossible
01/17/13 at 12:54 AM by Jonathan Bautts
The will to survive and the bond of family are two very familiar themes in storytelling, and itís true the Impossible is not breaking any new thematic ground. But framed against the horrors of the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia in 2004, itís a powerful and personal story that wonít soon be forgotten.

The one scene that everyone immediately calls out is of the tsunami itself, which is as realistic a tsunami/flood scene as has been portrayed in film. Itís both terrifying and exhilarating, a remarkably realistic feat for something operating on a somewhat limited budget of $45 million or so. It is shot and framed well, while most of the water effects seem to have been done practically, which feels like youíre put right in the middle of it all.

The other aspect that stands out is the performances, particularly those of Naomi Watts and Tom Holland. Over the past decade, Watts has established herself as one of the premiere dramatic actresses working today, and she deservedly earned her second Oscar nomination for her work here. I doubt any other character in 2012 had to go through as many trying circumstances, as sheís either in various stages of excruciating pain or literally trying to stave off death for most of her screen time. Itís a gutsy role that is both physically demanding and emotionally draining, and we feel it through her every breath.

Holland plays her eldest son of three, in his early teens, and he joins Beasts of the Southern Wildís Quvenzhanť Wallis as the yearís most revelatory discovery. He capably holds his own against his more experienced costars, and this type of material is no easy task, regardless of age. Meanwhile, he evokes remarkable pathos in the moments when he has to act on his own, perfectly walking the scared-brave tightrope everyone in the film is undertaking on some level.

Now the first half of Impossible is near flawless. Following the tsunami we stick with Watts and Holland basically in real time as they try to find safety and medical attention. Thereís no score, and itís a riveting piece of pure filmmaking. However, an hour in it starts cross-cutting between the other half of the family, which consists of Ewan McGregor and their two youngest sons, and the raw intensity gradually begins to fade until it becomes more traditionally movie like. Thatís not necessarily an outright bad thing, but the second half writing is the weakest element by far.

It should come as no surprise thereís some kind of reunion that takes place, and the scenes immediately preceding it definitely are exaggerated narratively. The sequence still works because weíve become so invested in these characters, but in the back of your mind you know what youíre seeing is fairly ridiculous and manipulative. Iím not sure how you would fix the problem, because almost any ending you pick would feel ďimpossibleĒ to a certain extent, but it remains a particular flaw nevertheless. Iím curious how the direction they went with compares to what happened in real life.

Speaking of real life, the last thing I found interesting is how the nationality of the actual family was switched from Spanish to British. I donít know if thereís an underlying studio reason for that, or if they simply jumped at the chance to get actors of Watts and McGregorís caliber, but considering how almost all of the principle crew is Spanish to begin with, it struck me as slightly odd and out of place.

The Impossible is just the second film from director Juan Antonio Bayona, who started out on 2007ís above-average horror film The Orphanage, yet you never would have guessed it because he already seems like a seasoned pro. I have no idea what the manís future ambitions are but I can definitely see him helming a huge Hollywood blockbuster in the near future. The Impossible is a wonderful accomplishment and something to be proud of, a moving testament to one familyís love in the face of some of the worst life can throw your way.
Tags: the impossible, film review
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