The Impossible – review

IMPOSSIBLE IS NOTHING

Tom Holland facing the biggest challenge.

The Impossible (2.012, Juan Antonio Bayona) is, probably, the ultimate disaster movie. A “what if” Steven Spielberg was influenced by Terrence Mallick, to tell the story of a spanish family who survived the 2004 Xmas tsunami in Thailand. It’s not a real spoiler, ’cause it’s the actual premise of the whole film, and never the point of it, to check out who lives and who dies. The fact to know in advance this whole family is alive, is both a relief and an aditional dramatic power all through the lenght of the feature.

There is a lot of talk through the web about real nonsense about this film, and some reviews are focusing on the wrong aspects of the film itself. Complaints about focusing on a white family – well, the film is spanish and the family is spanish, in real life, and that is why the writers and director actually learnt about it and became interested – , about changing the nationality from spanish to some anglosaxon (the budget of the film requires international marketing, and in the end, nationality is unimportant to the message), being manipulative (OK, so Hitchcock or Spielberg aren’t manipulative, filmmaking is the pure definition of manipulation itself!) and as result of these, and some more, you can read internet-wide, plenty of disgusted posts about skipping this outrageous film, most of the times, without seeing it first.

I did see it, on a widescreen at a movie theater, as plenty of spaniards since the opening. The film is almost a compendium of what Hollywood actually doesn’t make in disaster films and should be done. First, focus on characters that feel real – advantage being, this is a real family… maybe this is what puzzles audiences and critics alike, this isn’t what people assume is going to be. It is NOT an explotaition of real-life human suffering. It is not a pop-corn film. So, what’s “The Impossible”? An experience.

The challenge: not only being able to transport the audience to see, but to live and feel the life-changing experience, this family and thousands others went through 8 years ago. For several minutes at the beginning of the film, Bayona literally takes us o be almost drown with Naomi Watts and Tom Holland (mother and son in the film), the feeling so real, you can’t help wondering afterwards how they did it (key point, the way for practical effects with just the right use of CGI to help layers mash together and remove/add backgrounds. But impressive and effective as the tsunami itself is, what won me was to witness the aftermath. I see not a single line of review praising the choreography of a disaster, the art direction of this film is. Score underlines the manipulative purpose – of course, it’s manipulative, it has to be – of the film, a film in which its nature is as simple as life and nature itself: the basic change of growing mature, not only the three children – specially Tom Holland’s character – but also both parents, whose priorities, whose assumptions are turned upside-down with a splash, without warning. The fragility of life, the randomness of survival, the lack of guarantees of the struggle to live, the notion of not having been “better” than others that couldn’t achieve the same results. Messages that aren’t exactly b.o. appealing, which dig deeper in notions like morality, faith, than 99% of the usual offer at the cineplexes. If I remember correctly, there’s not a single point the characters stop and pray – ouch! – and is empathy instead which takes the place. Nothing wrong when movies go that way – The Poseidon Adventure is one of my favorite films both at the disaster genre and at the religious one (it’s the underlying theme of that film, and its extremely good screenplay) – but of course it has taken a non-american production to avoide the common themes and clichés, and to focus on the suspense of the we know, impossible but unavoidable. What we watch is not what we’re used to, and probably that’s why the film has been a bit divisive – and certainly underrated – so far.

On the acting side, of course Naomi Watts has fallen into the spotlight and earned a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nomination, positioning herself as a likely Oscar nominee – she could surprise with wins, but she’s more a dark horse than an actual contender, so far, let’s see how the film opens in the USA. Ewan McGregor is equally outstanding and God knows how due this man is for some recognition – since Trainspotting, 16 years ago, already! – but what itches me is, the fact that Tom Holland is just earning noms and wins as “youth” or “breakthrough”, when we watch him transform from a child into a man in 2 hours at a theater. His character arc is amazing and he pulls it off to perfection, in what is one of the best child performances I’ve seen in my whole life. He’s the true lead in the film, and it’s embarrassing to see him devalued in the aprecciation for his work.

Overall, Bayona’s film is, to my taste, a masterpiece. I know I am in a minority, and I know that the film will be mostly overlooked at Oscar night – biggest problem being, it is a spanish production with no big american studio behind, with spanish crew that in most cases aren’t guild members in the USA – while it richly deserves consideration in plenty of cathegories (Picture, Director, Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Supporting Actor, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Art Direction, Score, Film Editing, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing, Visual Effects and Make Up)… fact is… it doesn’t really need awards, and most likely awards weren’t on the horizont at the filmmaker’s minds when the project originated… as they confess, they wrote the screenplay not knowing how some things were going to be done. Even one of the most iconic moments of the film – at the candles lifting, at the beginning, it seems that it was chance who decided to go in an unexpected way, as shown it the film. Exactly in the same line of the film’s message.

The Impossible ***** / A+

2012, J.A. Bayona. With Tom Holland, Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor

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