There have been a lot of films in this year’s Oscars race that are based on or inspired by true events. Argo, Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirtyhave received mass coverage in their relation to their real life stories. Another film that fits into this category is The Impossible. Taking place during the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami and its aftermath, The Impossibleis really able to capture the emotion of the events it portrayed to as good of a degree (if not better) than those other films in the Oscar race. While the film ultimately is a bit too manipulative at times for its own good, The Impossible is a stunning cinematic achievement.
The Impossible is based off the true-life story of a family (a Mexican family in real life but an English family in the film, which really doesn’t become a problem until the film shows the “obligatory” real life photo during the end credits) that is caught in the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami while on vacation. While the mother (played by Naomi Watts in an Oscar-nominated role) and eldest son (played by theater actor Tom Holland) are able to reconnect quickly, they must endure chaos and severe injuries in their search for the rest of their family. The film is directed by Juan Antonio Bayona (who came to prominence with the Guillermo del Toro produced The Orphange) and is written by Bayona’s frequent collaborator, Sergio G. Sanchez.
Juan Antonio Bayona does an incredible job in directing this film. He is somehow able to make this film seem incredibly epic (the tsunami sequence is just jaw-dropping as it is able to combine some incredible effects work with cringe-inducing sound work and realistic acting) while strikingly intimate. In the first half of this film, he is able to put together a large set of exhausting (in a good way) scenes as we witness the carnage that this event caused. Since this section of the film is less dependent on the script as later sections, it is really able to soar. Sanchez’s script isn’t bad, but it certainly isn’t great as there are just too many moments of coincidence and scenes that hit you on the head with the film’s themes. Despite that Bayona is still able to make the second half work as he still makes some of the more clunky scenes resonate and gets some really great acting out of his cast.
Naomi Watts leads a very strong cast. While she is immobilized for large portions of the film, she is able to bring a lot of physicality to the role in a striking manner. It’s a gritty performance that will get a lot of attention (and it already has), but it doesn’t overpower the other performances in the film. In fact, Ewan McGregor is just as good (if not better) as the father of the family. He is off-screen for large portions of the film but he makes the most of his screentime and really nails his money scene. The child actors are also really good (especially Tom Holland who is tasked with handling some of the scenes in the film on his own).
While it’s not without some faults, it’s quite surprising that The Impossible received only one Academy Award nomination. It’s a powerful combination of top-notch effects work, sturdy direction, and fantastic acting.