(a film review by Mark R. Leeper)

CAPSULE: THE IMPOSSIBLE is a true account of a family celebrating the holiday in coastal Thailand that is literally torn apart by the 2004 Christmas tsunami. It is a realistic, on-the-ground look at the experience of being caught in a Tsunami and the effort afterward of just finding loved ones. As the wave crashes the film has a guaranteed six minutes of white-knuckle fear. Juan Antonio Bayona who directed THE ORPHANAGE an exploration of supernatural horror now gives us a horror that is only too natural. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10

In the last decade we have seen some terrible real-world destruction due to tsunamis--what we used to call "tidal waves." Particularly destructive were the ones that hit Southeast Asia centering on Indonesia the day after Christmas 2004 and the one that hit Japan, centering on Honshu, March 11, 2011. With improving and more widespread video technology the public has seen on the news dramatic images of real tsunami waves breaking on beaches and coastal areas in literal waves of destruction miles wide. This may have only whetted our curiosity of what sort of nightmare it must be like to be down in the path of such a wave. THE IMPOSSIBLE shows the experience in harrowing detail. It has really frightening visions of being on the ground with the huge wave breaking all around and over. Even Clint Eastwood's HEREAFTER, in which the real set piece was a somewhat gratuitous tsunami toward the beginning. It would be hard to say which film THE IMPOSSIBLE or HEREAFTER better portrays the horrifying effects of a tsunami, but after the tsunami in THE IMPOSSIBLE one still has an effective and affecting drama. After the tsunami in Eastwood's HEREAFTER one has only the disappointing film that was HEREAFTER.

There is not much to say about the plot of the film. The Bennett family--Maria (Naomi Watts), Henry (Ewan MacGregor), and their three sons (Tom Holland, Oaklee Pendergast, and Samuel Joslin)--are at a Thai resort celebrating Christmas when they are ripped apart and mauled by the 2004 tsunami. The scenes of just surviving such a wave are visceral enough. Eventually the film focuses on the family, some badly injured, facing the logistical problem of finding each other and reuniting in the midst of tens of thousands of people displaced, scattered, and lost. THE IMPOSSIBLE makes an interesting pairing with last year's CONTAGION, both films are about the destruction and pain that nature can still unleash on people. That film had Gwyneth Paltrow go from looking glamorous to looking ravaged. This film does much the same with Naomi Watts. Besides Watts and MacGregor the only familiar face is a tiny role for Geraldine Chaplin, but most of the cast will be unfamiliar.

Disaster films of this sort were popular in the 1970s even without technical ability to show on film what this film has. And they were almost all fictional stories with varying degrees of accuracy. This film has much more of a feel of authenticity and that alone makes it more effective. The photographic effects have evolved in the intervening four decades and the result is hellish enough and at the same time more believable. However, THE IMPOSSIBLE has the same dramatic problem that many of the old disaster films had. The primary event, the hitting of the wave, has to be early--about thirteen minutes into the film, since all of the rest of the action depends on it. In most films, you want the real set piece to be near the end. The narrative is mostly about the aftermath of the wave. This is not to say that the backend of the film is lackluster by any means. It is a compelling adventure story and even affecting. This is really a disaster film done as well as one can be done. It has very accomplished photography and good acting.

One complaint with THE IMPOSSIBLE is that it really tells the (albeit true) story of one family caught up in the catastrophe. But they are the luckiest 1% of the people hit by the disaster. As bad as things are for the Bennetts, there are all around people who are not nearly so lucky. The ground is littered with the bodies of people who a lot less fortunate. I rate this film a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10.

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					Mark R. Leeper
					Copyright 2012 Mark R. Leeper