MRR Movie Review: The Impossible

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Based on a true story, this is an account of a family caught, with tens of thousands of strangers, in the mayhem of one of the worst natural catastrophes of our time.
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Movie Review: "The Impossible"

-- Rating: PG-13
Length: 114 minutes
Release date: Dec. 21, 2012
Directed by: Juan Antonio Bayona
Genre: Action / Drama / Thriller

Movies that depict tragic moments in world history are often plagued by a sadness that seems to drag many of their scenes on much longer than necessary. A fictional angle is usually incorporated to lighten the subject matter (see "Titanic" starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet). "The Impossible" sets these types of movies on their end by featuring the devastating disaster of the 2004 tsunami in the horrific light that victims witnessed firsthand. The sad event therefore becomes a cinematic thriller that places the audience down into the gritty moment without the assistance of 3D.

The movie focuses on the family of five, headed by Henry (Ewan McGregor) and Maria (Naomi Watts). The children are Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin), and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast). They had a turbulent flight to Thailand, but their Christmas at the hotel was a family moment that director Juan Antonio Bayona seems to protect. He preserves that image in the eyes of the audience, only to snatch it away when the sea comes to reclaim the land, destroying everything in its path.

The moment that will probably stick in everyone's mind is when the water is rising behind the tranquil scene of the family playing in the pool. It is like a bad nightmare. Henry grabs the only two children he can reach and screams for Lucas, who is mesmerized by the water seemingly hanging above the treeline. Maria can't get to Lucas either. The water crashes down on the family and many others at the resort and in the surrounding area.

Thus begins not one but three separate tails of harrowing survival weaved by Bayona's cinematic prowess and penchant for visual thrills. Henry, Thomas, and Simon must try to first save themselves and then find Maria and Lucas. Maria and Lucas have the same plight but are on their own for much of the journey. Even when two of the survival stories intertwined, the relief is short-lived. Bayona throws the curveball of injuries in an area wiped clean of sanitary medical conditions, like a monkey wrench in an already struggling machine. Such a tactic works to keep audiences from becoming too jaded by the images of bodies, remnants of destroyed lives, and other families looking for loved ones.

"The Impossible" is the story of a real Spanish family named Alvarez Balon, the members of which were all caught in the 2004 tsunami in much the same way that Henry, Maria, and their family were. It is a bit of a spoiler to hear this information. However, it does not ruin the experience that Bayona and his star cast create in the film.

The end result of the family's struggle seems to pale in the face of the survival saga that serves as the meat of the film. The generosity of strangers that seems to cross class, language barriers, and nationality is highlighted in each survival tale. The family owed a lot to the Thai citizens and visitors who all work together to collectively survive. The rushing water and mass amounts of debris are a part of the visual horror that Bayona puts together to bring the experience of the tsunami to the big screen. He does amazing work, using strategic camera angles, CGI, and creative shooting techniques to bring the water to the level of a living monster without the aid of 3D. In fact, the monstrous water breaks up the sadness that attempts to cloud the family's struggle to come back together. It also reminds audiences of the real danger that the Alvarez Balon family members suffered.

This technique counters the depressing retelling methods previously used to bring a harrowing event to the big screen. Bayona, McGregor, Watts, and all the extras working in the water prove that a film can depict true and tragic events without becoming a parody or cheesy doppelganger of that point in history. This is done without highly fictionalizing the story. Henry doesn't sprout wings, and Maria doesn't have to take a lover to make this film riveting. "The Impossible"keeps audiences glued to their seats on its merits alone.

"The Impossible" is an often terrifying, sometimes depressing version of actual historical events. Audiences will love the cinematic techniques used, as they make everyone forget they are watching a true story and not a CGI-filled 3D romp. Bayona uses the film to lay down a challenge to future disaster moviemakers to do it right or not at all.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars