action, alvarez belons, best actress, disaster films, ewan mcgregor, indian ocean, juan antonio bayona, naomi watts, the impossible, tom holland, tsunami 2004
TWO ASPECTS OF Juan Antonio Bayona’s disaster film “The Impossible” will haunt you. The first is the tsunami itself, which slammed into south-west Asia on the 26th of December, 2004, killing nearly a quarter-million people and leveling scores of luxury hotels. “The Impossible” begins and ends with the Bennett family, Maria and husband Henry (Ewan McGregor), flying to and fro a high-end Thai resort where they open Christmas gifts and lounge poolside. The film’s first fifteen minutes are the lull before the storm and Bayona is even able to extract a frisson of terror out of something as quotidian as a red rubber ball that the Bennett boys – Lucas, Thomas, and Simon – bop around the pool area; they’ll soon find themselves floating out to sea like the ball itself. Wilson! A loose page is blown out of the book Maria is reading and gradually, the vacationers notice that something sinister is in the air. One of the most terrifying images is of the palm trees just beyond the hotel walls being felled, one after another, as the Indian Ocean violently overruns the lazy sunbathers. Bayona gives us numerous underwater shots in which we see a soup of twisted metal, palm trees, bodies, automobiles reduced to matchbox cars, even a drowned elephant.
Beyond such verisimilitude, which is agonizing indeed, there is also Naomi Watt’s performance as Maria, a doctor who has temporarily hung up her stethoscope to raise her three young sons while living abroad in Japan. Bayona built the biggest water tank in Europe to simulate the disaster and, currently making the rounds on TV talk shows prior to Oscar night next month, Watts reports that she was strapped to a chair, submerged, and brought to the brink of drowning in order for the director to elicit true terror from her. But Watts’s performance is a marvel not simply because of her lung-busting cries – she gave us plenty of those one decade ago in “The Ring” – but because of her relationship with Lucas (Tom Holland), the eldest of her sons. There’s that uncomfortable moment when Lucas is ashamed to see his mother’s mangled and exposed breast; there’s another when Maria insists on helping an abandoned boy whom she and Lucas hide in the treetops. Dehydrated, leg badly injured, Maria shares a soda can with the two boys and stares up at the younger one like he’s a cherub on high. A good actor, like a good tennis partner, brings out the best in her scene-mate and Watts is able to elevate Holland so that he, too, becomes the emotional core of “The Impossible.” You don’t doubt for a second that it’s her love for Lucas and the other family members that keep her fighting for her life.
The film’s title is trite, the family’s reunion never really in question, and Bayona (“The Orphanage”) either forgot or simply didn’t feel the need to close the film with the official death toll or some kind of acknowledgment that most, if not all, the tsunami-victims weren’t as lucky as the upper-class Bennetts who had health insurance and private planes at their disposal. It’s as if every other survivor is put there to either facilitate or frustrate the family’s predictable reunion. The Bennetts are actually an Anglicization of the real-life family that survived the disaster, the Alvarez Belóns of Spain, and it’s a shame that European actors were swapped out for blond-blue-eyed ones. Nevertheless, it’s Watts who powers “The Impossible.” That’s her kilowatts.
Didn’t know the family wasn’t American. Again Hollywood dumbing down or changing history to appeal to a wider audience. Well I’m not dumb I’d rather the real ethnicity. Still Colin I agree this was a moving story and I was quite impressed with acting of the Lucas character. After the Oscars when Chastain wins some may ask “Watts up with that?”.
Nice pun, ha. Do you think Chastain has it? Not so sure. Still need to see AMOUR but she’s a contender, too. But I know you liked ZDT…thanks for reading!
Amour only comes here a day or two before the Oscars so I’m anxious to see it. I still don’t like a six year old taking a nomination spot no matter how good she was in Beasts. I’ll get in trouble but F it a person that young is trained like a circus seal to do the takes / tricks each shot at a time. Similar to these young motivational speakers or entrepreneurs. Who is pulling their strings? She has plenty of time to learn the craft.
Good review Col. Watts, McGregor, and Holland are good, but they’re a lot better than the rest of what the movie has to offer. That’s for damn sure.
A good way to putting it: something about the sum of its parts…are you seeing AMOUR? Perhaps she’s the Best Actress leader of the pack?
That’s what it seems like since she’s the oldest ever, and it’s also going to be her birthday. Sounds like a strong favorite to me.
Interesting! I wish I could get an Oscar on my bday!
Great review. I think Water Works sums up the movie perfectly!
Oh, and didn’t know that about Watt’s performance (the strapped-to-a-chair thing). That is craaaazy. But hey, she did give a fantastic performance. Holland was great as well.
Yeah, who is that kid? What’s he been in? Very strong actor.
Very talented young man. I think this was his film debut and that he was in a stage production of Oliver! and that’s where he was discovered.
Evan mcgregor is amazing in this movie. I never really thought that much of Naomi Watts until seeing this but she is unbelievable. I think the Academy loves a pretty young thing, so it will be between Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence,but releasing Mama may push Jennifer Lawrence over the top. I’ve seen all five and they’re all great, but its between those two ladies unfortunately.
Hmmm….Lawrence is a contender, but it seems too early in her career; I’m thinking AMOUR could win it. But I need to see it to decide! Heh. Chastain also too early in career but what a career it’s shaping up to be!
I’m thinking amour is not a sentimental favorite for best actress. It will have to suffice with best foreign film. She’s not a sentimental favorite like Jessica Tandy was. If the old lady from titanic didn’t get it she has no shot. If Naomi watts wins the sag award she’s a possible spoiler, but otherwise I don’t see anyone besides Chastain and Lawrence.
We should compare pics before the oscars.
Indeed; thinking I may put out a prediction page. LMK
If Lawrence is too young in career than that extends to the nine year old in Beasts of the Southern Wild as I said before. She doesn’t even know what an Oscar is. Good coaching for the young girl but not Oscar calibre at this stage.
Ah yes, I know BEASTS was not your cup of tea, sir! You rightly point that age is less a predictor here than sheer talent. So perhaps it will fall on Lawrence; she’s pretty fun in that role. But SLP overall is scatterbrained.
Agreed re SLP which I still think of as a VCR speed. Not many disliked SLP. I pretty much hated it but liked JL for putting up with it.
TMA: Too many acronyms! 😉
Thea Christie said:
wait…are you saying naomi watts can ACT? :0 I feel like she has very limited facial expressions !
Interesting; an actress with range, methinks…and some pretty fine films on her resume! Not a winner last night tho