Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Movie with Abe: The Impossible

The Impossible
Directed by J.A. Bayona
Released December 21, 2012

Natural disasters make for extremely compelling movie subjects. The destructive gravity of the event, whatever it may be, is powerful all on its own, and as long as it’s told in a respectful manner, the result is usually a moving and positive one. Latching on to individual stories at the center of a tragedy is crucial in terms of evoking empathy and resonance. “The Impossible,” which chronicles one family’s harrowing journey back to each other in the wake of the 2004 tsunami that struck Southeast Asia, does just that, introducing its central characters and following them through their story of survival.

Like any other disaster film, “The Impossible” begins with the calm before the storm, as its five-member family arrives from Japan to a brand-new Thailand resort on Christmas Eve. A few brief encounters with the family, whose members get along quite well despite an uncertainty about the next step in their lives, establish them as effective protagonists. When the first monstrous wave produced by the tsunami hits, the film segments into two parts, as the mother, Maria (Naomi Watts) and her son Lucas (Tom Hollander) experience their tribulations. Only later does the father, Henry (Ewan McGregor), reappear, alive and mostly well, with his two younger sons.

Spending so much uninterrupted time with Maria and Lucas as they cling to life and to each other as they are literally carried away by the water makes the devastation utterly inescapable, trapping viewers in the horrific reality of the situation. The imagery is graphic and brutal, and it’s especially difficult to watch Lucas and his younger siblings cope with the sight of grave injuries, dead bodies in the water, and the idea that the other half of their family is gone forever. Its recreation of the tsunami and its aftereffects is the film’s greatest asset, and it’s hard not to be drawn into the awful and heartbreaking fear present.

After achieving such adequate emotional intensity and triggering a likely response in the hearts of viewers, “The Impossible” veers into sensational territory, opportunistically placing its characters within feet of each other without knowledge of the presence of the others, staged as a suspenseful thriller rather than the drama this was meant to be. Excessive use of music and symbolic scenes are unnecessary since the film is able to achieve excellent and thoughtful representations of tragedy and loss without them. The actors are capable, but this film is all about visual mastery and corresponding emotional response, an area in which it, for the most part, succeeds.


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