With Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast. Written by Sergio G. Sánchez. Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona. Rated PG-13 for intense realistic disaster sequences, including disturbing injury images and brief nudity. 114 minutes.
It’s time for American audiences to grow up. Every story in the world is not about English-speaking WASPs. THE IMPOSSIBLE tells the story of the 2004 tsunami that devastated parts of Thailand. As you might expect, this was an absolute horror for the people of Thailand. So why would you tell such a story through the eyes of a British family on vacation at a resort there?
One reason might be that it’s based on a true account of a vacationing family, except this Spanish-made film – which is in English – decided that even telling the true story about the family being Spanish might be too much for mainstream audiences to accept in the U.S. So, just like “The Help” told us how hard racial discrimination was on guilty white liberals, “The Impossible” tells us that one of the worst disasters to ever visit Thailand was really tough on the English.
Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts star as Henry and Maria. He’s a businessman stationed in Japan. She’s a physician who has put aside her years of training and hard work as a physician to be a full-time mom to her three sons. Really? What year is this supposed to be? At the start of the film, they’re enjoying their idyllic vacation at a resort where they are protected from seeing anything that is authentically Thai when the tsunami hits.
One must admit – the special effects are impressive and that this is as close as most of us hope to being near an actual natural catastrophe. It is what has been dubbed “disaster porn.” Wow, look at all the people being flattened and washed away by the tidal wave. Fortunately, most of them are anonymous Thais and we don’t have to care about them at all. Instead, we follow our plucky British family. Maria and eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland) manage to find each other and wind up in a hospital. Henry finds the two younger boys and – we know this is coming – by film’s end the family is reunited.
Whew. White people go to Thailand, suffer unimaginable horrors, yet somehow live to tell the story. Those people in the background? Don’t worry about them. They’re just the poor locals. Oh, there’s some other foreigners we come across, including Geraldine Chaplin in a part so poorly defined that she’s listed as “Old Woman” in the cast list, but this is about an adventure that Henry, Maria and the boys will no doubt recount many times in years to come once they’re back in England.
Sorry. This critic has lost patience with stories like this. “Life of Pi” may have its problems, but at least they didn’t recast Pi as an American teenager. Apparently, telling the impact of the tsunami on the local population – or even on a Spanish family in a film made by Spanish filmmakers! – just couldn’t be done. The name of the movie is “The Impossible.” It is, perhaps, more ironic that the filmmakers intended.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide will be released in January 2013. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.