Regardless of the praise or controversy surrounding the latest real-life tragedy depicted on the big screen, The Impossible is undoubtedly token Oscar fodder, but less crass in comparison to last year’s inclusion of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, that’s for sure.
Even though Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona bases the true story on the account of a Spanish family, it is adapted for English-speaking audiences with the recognisible faces of Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor. What’s clear is the hugely contrived setup for the impending tsunami disaster that struck on Boxing Day 2004, and even though it is a necessity to construct an idyllic family holiday before the inevitable horror, it does so in heavy-handed fashion. Whist some have focused critically on the Anglicisation, it shouldn’t have dominant relevance when exploring the issues and context of these characters presented within this particular story.
Obligatory exposition out the way, the initial impact of the tsunami is nothing other than devastating. It is scenes such as these that are tackled in a way that balances the sheer horror and deft poignancy to commendable effect. The CGI feels large-scale enough for impact, yet subtle enough for believability, which is one of the film’s strongest claims.
However, aside from the emotion generated and horror visualised, particular plot points (in the latter scenes especially) feel terribly staged for an audience pay off. Coincidence dominates the conclusion offering an outcome of hope and resolve rather than a more realistic acceptance and inevitability of reality in the wake of such a catastrophe. It’s obviously to be expected for a) a Hollywood disaster movie, and b) as something that strives to appeal to the Academy.
Performances peak with Watts, who demands more screen time than her male counterpart and perhaps warrants her Oscar nod. McGregor, however — aside from one particularly devastating scene — offers a consistent if not outstanding turn. The couple’s children, specifically Lucas (Tom Holland), perform well considering a lack of experience. Unfortunately, it is the inconsequential characters that make up the swampy mainland that deliver wooden, awkward lines of dialogue that threatens to remove audiences from the very real, engrossing dangers of the environment they’ve invested in.
The Impossible possesses a clear intention to appeal to human nature, relying on a handful of tremendously poignant moments to affect, overwhelm and completely engage its audience. However, in a film that, for one reason or another, decides to alter factual certainties for entertainment, audiences will still willingly succumb to the emotional blackmail on offer in the form of this effective but contrived melodrama.
Keep up-to-date with Mike’s other reviews and more over at Twitter.