This new distressing, emotional tale opens around the time it is set in 2004 (and based on actual events), Christmas, and it may feel a little ponderous and pretentious to discerning cineastes.
Yet, the Spanish-produced English language The Impossible admirably marries familial strife and unforeseen disaster into a stripped-down, sweeping, affecting and immersive whole with humanity and physical dimension.
A British-born Japan-employed executive Henry (Ewan MacGregor of Golden Globe-nominated Salmon Fishing on the Yemen) takes his wife Maria (Naomi Watts of Fair Game and The Painted Veil) and their three kids on a Thailand holiday vacation. A chance to partake in the holiday in such a lovely coastal villa idyll poolside after gift-giving turns to tsunami terror as it splits the family in two.
Helmer Juan Antonio Bayona lessens that taut, clandestine characteristics infused into a vanishing convincingly played out in his horror debut The Orphanage. With his scenarist from that film, Sergio G. Sanchez, there's emphasis on the extreme challenges of turmoil and displacement that may feel too padded especially in the middle reels. It's hard to keep one consistently captivated like what roars into the sightline on such a ginormous scale early on.
Nevertheless, a deep impact of a tragic, traumatic event comes in part by its casting and convincing use of locations, Thailand and three Spanish cities including Madrid. Of the leads, a valiantly tender Watts may have the heavier actorly lifting to do after struggling to survive by hanging onto a branch in the water. MacGregor endows a hopeless provider like Henry with wistful desperation in an attempt to uncover a miracle.
It goes without saying that the casting of the child actors by the filmmakers goes a long way to the film's unadorned power, particularly Tom Holland as the oldest, Lucas. The scenes with Lucas and his debilitated mother with the son assuming a much more adult role serves the trappings of the genre dramatically well.
With no allegorical exploration, a humbling atmospherically charged experience reaches a coda that may not resonate as much if not mindful of where it's rooted. Yet, there is a paradox to the unlikeliness of The Impossible that is an interpretatively shaded repressive answer for unity and moving forward.