Having somehow missed the original release of ‘The Impossible’ and not being able to comment on the tear-jerker’s reputation until now, I was pleasantly surprised to find a film of great value, both as an emotional exploration of humanity as well as a technical achievement in the craft of film-making.
Director J.A. Bayona, in only his second feature film (first in English), has put all his story telling skills on display. ‘The Impossible’ is a simple story of one family’s journey through the disaster of the 2004 tsunami, showing the chaos, separation, devastation that the force of nature thrust upon humanity and concludes with the ultimate revelations of the fragility of human life, the power of the human spirit and the truth that we are not truly in control of our own lives, we can only make decisions based on what cards we are dealt. These themes are not heavy handed or forced down our throats, but are subtly revealed to us in many ways. For example: characters early on in the film put off certain things with the expectation that tomorrow will be another day in which they can do what they didn’t get around to doing today. With the arrival of the tidal wave, and it’s effects, we as the audience are left to witness that sometimes ‘tomorrow never comes’.
The film is bookended by two plane flights, and this device of repetition is an excellent script decision which allows us to compare characters reactions to similar situations from very different standpoints after certain things have happened to them. The bond between the family on the first flight is extremely different and nowhere near as tight as it is on the second flight after the events of the film. This is the most obvious one, but the script is littered with smaller, subtler examples.
The Impossible also contains solid acting all around, but the particular stand outs for me were the three children. Tom Holland who plays the eldest son is the one with whom we spend most of our time with, and he is absolutely superb. His two younger brothers also do excellent work, regardless of their ages.
The film is also well executed not only in its scripting, structure and acting, but also in its expert use of film technique especially from an editing and sound perspective. The film’s opening sets the stage for a great aural journey through the life of this family and the chaos of nature’s fierce underside. The ‘washing machine effect’ of being thrown around under water and the brutal moments of impact during the tsunami – particular the leg and breast injuries sustained by Naomi Watts will have you gasping. The use of make-up and editing power combined with Tom Holland’s performance, keep the revelation of Naomi’s wound in your mind far longer than it has the right to. There are moments of great frustrating tension too, as the family has near misses in their attempts to locate each other.
In closing, The Impossible is not quite the tear-jerker it was made out to be by other people, but it a great film none-the-less, and one that I would highly recommend.
Commentary – A solid track with lots of meaty discussion about the performances and narrative choices. They talk a lot about the human aspects of the film and the characters journeys and how they tried to achieve these things in the script.
The Featurettes – Two brief featurettes cover the casting process as well as the realization of the tsunami sequence. One could have hoped for a little more in the tsunami segment but at least you do get the basic idea of all the elements and thoughts that went into that scene and you get a brief, yet good look at how it was all achieved.