Imagine your most exotic vacation interrupted by a tidal wave that swept you and your family into a nightmare. Would others pay to watch the monumental struggles of your family to survive? Your choice.
Rating: If seen in a movie theater, make sure there is an available bar nearby to numb the psychological pain of the moment.
The Impossible is an emotionally overwhelming movie from beginning to end. There is no relief, much less relaxation, as it is solely a story of an Australian family’s attempt to survive the gigantic tsunami that struck Thailand in December of 2004.
In a sense, I strangely felt that Jessica Chastain was attempting to torture me to death after suffering a relapse from her performance in Zero Dark Thirty. Sure, I hated dying, but how could you fault doing so at the hands of a woman with such a radiant intellect?
The plot centers on loving parents and their three young boys who are on a Christmas holiday in Thailand. Shortly after their arrival in a lovely resort, the tsunami strikes while they are lounging around one of the exotic swimming pools close to the beach. You quickly see a shocked mother, Maria, washed away through a glass barrier as her oldest son, Lucas, disappears after diving into the pool. You last see her husband, Henry, holding the other two boys in his arms as he runs frantically in disbelieving shock.
What follows is unrelenting agony, and the wonderful Naomi Watts deserves her Oscar nomination this year for Best Actress. Here, playing Maria, she embodies a mother viciously injured to within an inch of her life as she tries to survive swimming in a torrential river created by the tsunami. Seeing Lucas trying to stay afloat near her, she fights massive pain and anguish, becoming the embodiment of a mother bear that won’t let her cub die.
These scenes between Ms. Watts and her son, played here by a very effective Tom Holland, are tragically moving, and they will leave you inevitably fighting tears. Nothing they do is safe, as a massive torrent of unimaginable debris continues to strike them. When they recover momentarily only to hear the cries of a distant child, no amount of available anti-depressants can prevent you from being as overwhelmed as them.
Though the film eventually turns to the struggles of the father, played here by the always effective Ewan McGregor, he really has a small role in the film. While you will see him and his two other sons banding together to survive, their entire involvement in the film is trying to determine if his wife and oldest son are still alive. Again, there is no letup in his personal horror, and his agony becomes yours.
The cinematography is knockout breathtaking, and the destruction caused by the tsunami is horrid beyond description. Many people died, local residents as well as tourists, and the fight for survival by Ms. Watts and Mr. McGregor serves only as a mirror into the personal loss suffered by many others.
Quite frankly, the movie solidifies the reputations of both major performers. For Ms. Watts, think of her role opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in last year’s J. Edgar; her powerful role with Vigo Mortensen in Eastern Promises (2007); her heartbreaking performance in the overlooked The Painted Veil (2006), and her contribution in the very scary The Ring (2002).
As for Mr. McGregor, I really don’t have much to add to his resume. He is capable of pushing the outside of the envelope in many different roles, so just look at the crazed and thoroughly intriguing Haywire (2011); his powerful contribution as the salmon expert in last year’s Salmon Fishing in the Yemen; his contribution to the Oscar Winning performance by Christopher Plummer in Beginners (2010); his compelling role as a gay man in love with Jim Carrey in I Love You Phillip Morris (2009); his wonderful contribution to the great Moulin Rouge! (2001), and his dazed contributions to the crazed though upbeat Velvet Goldmine (1998) and Trainspotting (1996).
If there was one shortcoming to the movie, it was the fact that you really didn’t get to know much about the Watts/McGregor family other than the torment they suffered in the tsunami. You knew she was a doctor on leave so she could raise her children and that he was involved in problems at his office. However, little else was put on the table before disaster struck.
In a sense, it reminded me of watching Spartacus (1960), the brilliant movie directed by Stanley Kubrick about revolting slaves in Ancient Rome. Imagine that you understood nothing about Spartacus other than what followed from the capture of his defeated army of compatriot slaves. While you would have still rooted for him, you would have never known the struggles of his life prior to the time that he was left dying on a cross in order to save his wife and young son.
In closing, I should note that I ran into an old friend at the theater, Ms. Christina McKee, who spent many respected years as an Assistant United States Attorney here in Indianapolis before gloriously accepting retirement. She saved me a seat, and we both agreed when leaving that we needed to warn the public about this film. Simply stated, after we both have spent several decades in the criminal justice system in the Federal Building here in Indianapolis, we really worried that we may be the only ones who knew how to deal with profound agony!