Review – The Impossible

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.•••

North Shore Movies has given this film a score of 2 out of 5.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.

11 thoughts on “Review – The Impossible

  1. Because it’s true that everyone’s entitled to his own opinion, at first I told myself not to reply to this. But since you clearly had no qualms bashing this film, I figured I shouldn’t have any bashing your review.

    What bothers me the most is how little thought you put into your argument. You belabor the obvious, obsessing over the film’s focus on one family and then on that family’s nationality. The anglicization of the Belon family was a decision by Spanish filmmakers who hoped to appeal to international audiences and receive as much international backing as possible.
    Were they solely catering to Americans? Certainly not. Does the change really discredit the story? Certainly not, seeing as the film strove for accuracy in all other areas and definitely wasn’t rewritten by Hollywood.

    In fighting the very concept of the film, you missed the mark entirely. Maria Belon herself stated in an interview, “This movie is not about nationalities, not about races, not about colors. It’s about human beings.”

    If you couldn’t take a single moment to marvel at the truth behind the film, the fortitude of human spirit that allowed at least one family to truly do the impossible, then I don’t understand why you bothered seeing it at all.

    On a different note, I was genuinely appalled when you nit-picked the fact that Maria was a doctor turned stay-at-home mother. “What year is this supposed to be?” you so cynically asked. It’s supposed to be 2004. I said “fact” because Maria Belon is an actual human being, a mother who actually made that decision. It wasn’t a random detail thrown in as background for a fictional character just to annoy reviewers like yourself.

    Also, I hope you noted that the closing shot (just before the now-calm ocean) was the ruined landscape of Thailand, seen through Maria[Watts]’s tears, instead of simply the family locked in joyful embrace. It was an effort to remind us that their happiness was conditional; they’d experienced firsthand the disaster that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and left its mark on each and every survivor.

    All in all, I’m shocked anyone would call this a great review, since it seems to me it’s an ineffectual tirade and not a review at all, as you chose not to analyze any real aspect of plot, character, cinematography, or veracity.

    1. Seems the reviewer knows nothing about Thailand. Thailand has 20 million tourist a year. I think considering the tsunami struck a tourist town, it is quite appropriated to view it from a tourist point of view. It also showed the Thai’s helping the best they could under the circumstances.

  2. Seems the reviewer knows nothing about Thailand. Thailand has 20 million tourist a year. I think considering the tsunami struck a tourist town, it is quite appropriated to view it from a tourist point of view. It also showed the Thai’s helping the best they could under the circumstances.

  3. MC hit the nail on the head. You missed the mark, and, made a few pc points that are probably valid, yet problematic. The ending justified all that came before, and those prescient enough, ruminated on how impossibly lucky they were, and how unfortunate all the unlucky victims were not. How could you have no sympathy for how very close to death Watts was, truly cringe-worthy. should be 7/10 or 8/10.

    1. I guess my sympathies were more with the death and suffering of real people as opposed to the fictional character she was playing.

      1. But she wasn’t fictional, that’s the point. The filmmakers based this on the story of a Spanish family who survived. Spain remarkably lost only two in the disaster, though a lot more were injured. But other countries in Europe suffered badly, Sweden lost over 500 and so did Germany. If you factor in proportion to population, Sweden’s loss was the equivilent of over 17,000 Americans. Plus, a large proportion of people from the Nordic countries were in the area at the time and were effectively traumatised.

        Now, this isn’t in the same scale of the loss Indonesia had, or Sri Lanka, but half the casualties in Thailand were tourist casualties who were all congregated at the most vulnerable point – the beaches. I met a Welsh woman who’s boyfriend was killed on that day. They were in their chalet sleeping in and the water just smashed through the glass windows hitting them while they were in bed. She managed to get out, he didn’t. She still has the scars.

        I do believe that more films need to be made about the tsunami from the Asian view, and also more films of foreign cultures to help cure small-mindedness in an ever shrinking world. But I also believe that this is a valid, truthful film. It isn’t perfect, and is marred by a score overtly trying to dictate emotion when silence would be far more effective, but their intentions were honourable. Thanks for reading.

  4. What bothers me the most about this review is the arrogance of the reviewer (typically found in –irony– white writers) and his cynicism. I thought it was a great movie that made me connect with the suffering of those how endured such tragedy, both locals and foreign.

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