Essentially, The Impossible is a story about family and the unconditional and collective love between family members.
The love story is nestled in a script that tells the true story of the Belons, a Spanish family who were holidaying at the Orchid Resort in Phuket, Thailand when the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami hit.
For the purposes of ensuring a Hollywood hit, mama and papa Belon are represented by Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor in the guise of the Bennetts, an American family, based in Japan.
Before we go any further it is worth noting that you can’t help wondering whether the Belon’s experiences would have been best told through a documentary drama format which would have allowed for a lesser degree of dramatic license and a more authentic input from the real life players.
However to be fair it doesn’t get much more dramatic than a Tsunami and the re-enactment of one comes at a hefty production cost, this coupled with the fact that Sanchez’s screenplay is based on an account from Maria Belon herself ultimately justifies the choice.
Introductions to the Bennett family are limited, any real detail about them before the main event is deemed unnecessary and probably correctly so, after all it is their actions after the main event which will or will not resonate with the audience. A few minutes is designated to the flight to their holiday destination with a further few given to the swapping of Christmas gifts, both sets of scenes are just long enough to really emphasise the horror that is about to besiege them.
As Henry (McGregor) and Maria (Watts) and their three, pre-teen children, Lucas, Simon and Thomas relax at the pool on December 26th 2004, the Tsunami hits. In one of the film’s most powerful scenes, there is little to no warning given as an inexplicable hum is followed by an enormous wave.
Henry and the children are engulfed in the wave and Maria is sent hurtling through a glass window. An eternity seems to pass as the audience watch Maria battle through an endless series of underwater spins, each one inflicting another painful injury, before eventually coming to the surface, where she is reunited with her eldest boy Lucas.
What follows is the real bones of the story; the impact that the horror and devastation of a Tsunami which killed nearly a quarter of a million people has on one family.
At a most rudimentary level The Impossible could be described as a disaster film and director Juan Antonia Bayona manages to encapsulate the horrors of a disaster through tried and tested editing techniques and brings to the screen the technical wizardry which is required to ensure the audience feel the disaster.
However, unlike the run of the mill disaster fare Bayona is faced with sensitively navigating his way through the aftermath of a true event which has affected so many people.
On one hand, Bayona succeeds; this is best exemplified through the young teenager Lucas (Tom Holland) who now has turned from child to carer for his mother. We watch as Lucas helps unite family members in the grossly overcrowded and under facilitated grief stricken hospitals in the aftermath of the disaster. Lucas immerses himself in keeping busy rather than to let the true horror of what has happened in.
A special mention is reserved for Holland, who although at times could be accused of over acting, is given an extraordinary amount of screen time for one so young but manages to acquit himself well in this coming of age role.
On the other hand, like many blockbusters before it Bayona is trapped by the demands of cinema economics and could be accused of playing to the masses by selling a film that is soaked in the idealism of the triumphs of the human spirit; a sure fire way to guarantee an audience.
The Impossible concentrates on the plights of the tourists who were impacted by the Tsunami which gratuitously opens the doors for the big Hollywood hitters of Watts and McGregor and simultaneously opens up, at least the idea, of ending with the ideological status quo that is the Hollywood happy ending. Meanwhile, the film glaringly ignores the impact the Tsunami has on the islanders, a story for which some would argue might not have had such an impact at the box office.