Sunday, December 30, 2012

Movie Review: "The Impossible"

Sometimes when I complain about things not going right, people tell me to keep it in perspective, to realize that what is happening to me isn't nearly as bad as the misfortunes of others. I'll admit that I don't always see that advice as helpful, because what feels unfair or insurmountable to one person may be nothing to another. (They say that admittance of the problem is the first step to recovery, don't they?)

After watching The Impossible, the harrowing, hopeful true story of a family affected by the late December 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia, which killed more than 230,000 people in 14 countries, I don't know if I'll ever complain about seemingly petty things again. This incredible disaster struck without warning and was the third largest earthquake ever recorded.

In the movie, Henry and Maria Bennett (Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts) travel to a resort in Khao Lak, Thailand with their three sons to enjoy some relaxation over the Christmas holiday. Their worries and frustrations are typical of most families—concerns about money, worry about whether anyone armed the alarm system before leaving, the oldest son being irritated by the fears and demands of his younger siblings. And then on December 26, while enjoying some family fun in the swimming pool at the resort, the winds suddenly pick up, and disaster strikes.

The effects the filmmakers used in depicting the tsunami, the power of the water and the destruction it left in its wake, how seemingly harmless debris held such danger when propelled by the surging ocean, and the staggering aftermath, is tremendously affecting. It almost looked like actual footage shot in 2004. Maria and her oldest son, Lucas (played by then-14-year-old Tom Holland), find themselves brought together as the water rolls over them and then subsides, carrying them far from Henry and the two younger boys.

Maria sustains significant injuries and Lucas bravely tries to help her to safety as they waited to see if any further disaster would strike, and eventually, to find help. A good portion of the film follows Maria's stay in a tremendously busy Thai hospital, stretched far too thinly to handle all of the injuries and deaths brought there, and Lucas' efforts to help other survivors try and find members of their families. Another portion of the film follows Henry, trying to find Maria and Lucas, and being forced to make some tremendously difficult and emotional choices along the way.

The anguish, frustration, and exhaustion portrayed by Watts, McGregor, Holland, and countless actors with tiny speaking roles (sometimes in other languages) really tugged at my heart and my tear ducts. It reminded me of the post-9/11 frenzy in New York and Washington, as survivors tried desperately to find any news of their missing loved ones.

Watts is simultaneously brave and fearful, wearied and strong, although her part isn't as large as McGregor or Holland's. Although I can't believe Ewan McGregor is playing father roles now (this is the guy from Trainspotting and Velvet Goldmine, for pity's sake), I was wowed by the raw emotion and courage of his performance, and Tom Holland, in his first real movie role, is truly fantastic.

This is a movie that has more going for it than sheer emotional manipulation. It is a well-told story that brings home the unbelievable impact this disaster had on the lives of some affected by it, and the frustrations, fears, and challenges they faced. It's a difficult movie to watch but one so worth watching.

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