Sunday, December 23, 2012

Film Review: The Impossible

"The Impossible"  **** (out of ****)

Some movies come along that are so emotionally powerful I'm with the characters every step of the way. I'm taking every step with them on their journey. I feel their heartache. By the end of the film I am emotionally drained. Two films to come along in the past five years that have done to this me are "The Orphanage" (2007) and "The Impossible" (2012). Their shared link? They were both directed by Juan Antonio Bayona, a brilliant, young, up and coming filmmaker.

Back in 2007, in a year where there were a lot of over-hyped movies, such as "Juno" (2007), "No Country For Old Men" (2007) and "There Will Be Blood" (2007), I dared to declare a smaller film, "The Orphanage", as the best film of the year. I felt Mr. Bayona was going to be a major new talent. Here we are now five years later, once again in year with a lot of hyped up movies; "Lincoln" (2012), "Flight" (2012) and "The Hobbit" (2012), and once again Mr. Bayona has, in my opinion, surpassed them all. I still need to wait for the release of a few movies here in Chicago, but, I'm prepared to call "The Impossible" the best film of 2012!

"The Impossible" is a fact based story revolving around the Tsunami back in 2004. Often cited as the most destructive natural disaster in history. We follow one family that has survived the disaster but have been separated and their quest to reunite, unsure if the others are still alive.

In some ways "The Orphanage" and "The Impossible" are similar. Both films are about the bond between parents and children. They are about unexplainable horrors which divide a family and the emotional struggles these people go through to reunite. The difference between the films is in the language. "The Orphanage" was a Spanish language film and "The Impossible" is Mr. Bayona's English language debut film (and his second film in his career).

The movie stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor as a married couple with three sons; Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast). They live in Japan due to Henry's (McGregor) job and are vacationing in Thailand at a luxury resort. Initially it looks like paradise. The sun is shinning, there appears to be a cool breeze and the people look carefree and happy. But, because we know a little about the plot before hand, we know the Hell which awaits these people. It almost serves as a lesson to people who are determined to travel to exotic, far off lands. If you keep looking for adventure, guess what? One day you'll find it. And it won't be the kind of adventure you were expecting.

The most powerful, startling moments in the film are when the Tsunami hits and we see the devastating effects of the tide. Mr. Bayona and his camera do not pull any punches. This will upset some viewers. The only word I can use to described these scenes are "intense". And that may not fully prepare you for what you are about to see. The word may not be strong enough. The camera is right there with these characters. Mr. Bayona doesn't give us time to breathe. The camera never backs away from the horror.

At this time in the movie I began to realize things I hadn't thought about when I first heard of the Tsunami. Basic things which my mind didn't begin to comprehend. For example, the tide was so strong, even after the Tsunami hit, that even if you wanted to stop, you couldn't. There was nothing to grab on to. You simply had to let yourself go with the tide. I started thinking to myself, what would I do? How would I try to stop myself from drifting along? Not to mention trying to avoid cars, trees, branches and parts of buildings which are coming in my direction. And that's when we, the audience, begin to try to have some understanding of what these people went through.

The dialogue is sparse but the actor which comes out looking the best is Naomi Watts. One of my favorite actresses working today. With mostly body language and facial expressions Ms. Watts creates a fully developed character. We understand her motivations and her mindset. Ms. Watts usually appears in strong movies. I remember seeing "21 Grams" (2003) in the theatre. It was another emotionally draining experience for me. "We Don't Live Here Anymore" (2004), "The Assassination of Richard Nixon" (2004) and "Mulholland Drive" (2001). All masterpieces in my opinion. I even enjoyed her in the Woody Allen film "You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger" (2010). She is an actress who gives consistently powerful, entertaining performances. She has an amazing ability to make us believe in her characters. "The Impossible" is no different. There is talk of an Oscar nomination floating around. It would be well deserved.

"The Impossible" does have those typical Hollywood "cute" moments. It pulls at our heartstrings, sometimes in more deliberate ways than others. Becoming almost too obvious in its manipulation, but it is powerful. People were crying from beginning to end during the movie.

I also want to point out some criticism I've read about the film. A liberal "critic" for the Chicago Reader complained that the film didn't make any attempt to discuss environmental causes for the storm. Clearly this liberal wanted there to be some mention of global warming and attack conservative principles on the issue. But that's not what "The Impossible" is about. It is about human drama. About hope and family. About people struggling to find something to believe in, in the face of great tragedy. If you are looking for mention of global warming do not watch this movie.

Sadly the film is not getting a "push" from film critics. The studio is not "pushing" the film either. This is the kind of movie which should be considered a possible "best picture" contender. Watts did win a Golden Globe nomination however. I hope audiences are able to "find" this film.

"The Impossible" is one of the best films of 2012!