Now available on DVD, “The Impossible” features Oscar-worthy performances by two actors, one a veteran and the other a newcomer. The first, by Naomi Watts, did earn her a nomination, and she arguably should have won. The second, by young Tim Holland, should at least have received a nod of some sort, as much of the movie’s appeal rests upon his 16-year-old shoulders. The rest of the supporting cast and some arresting technical work make this an interesting movie to rent.
Based on a true story, the film’s narrative focuses upon one British family, the Bennets, and their ordeal following the tsunami that hit Thailand on December 26, 2004. The actual family was Spanish: the mother portrayed here consulted with the filmmakers during the shooting. Playing Maria, Watts takes a considerable emotional and physical pounding that must, at times, have felt like the real thing. When the tsunami hits the brand new coastal resort where the Bennets are spending the Christmas holidays, all five of them — along with thousands of others — are swept under and away.
The film’s first half depicts the struggle of Maria and her oldest son, Lucas (Holland), to survive the flood and get medical attention. A doctor herself, Maria is aware that the deep cut to her leg is potentially fatal. Applying a makeshift tourniquet and supported by Lucas, she hobbles and is dragged to a village, whose inhabitants put her on a truck for the nearest hospital. There, mass confusion reigns, despite the efforts of overwhelmed medical professionals and volunteers to help.
At his mother’s behest, Lucas leaves her bedside to try to help other people find their missing children and parents. In the process, ironically, he and Maria are separated, and he commences a frantic effort to find her. Holland is, quite simply, terrific here and elsewhere in showing Lucas’s growth from a self-absorbed young teen into a responsible caretaker; the actor demonstrating an astonishing emotional range.
Now, the film pivots back to the resort, where Lucas’s father, Henry (Ewen McGregor), having survived and found his two younger sons, begins to search for Lucas and Maria. We become aware in the process not only of Nature’s ability to lay waste to human life but the capacity of people to come back. In particular, director and screenwriter focus on how family underpins our existence and, thus, how crucial it is to maintain it, whatever the odds against doing so.
It’s an old-fashioned movie, in that sense, but one which needs the considerable assistance of contemporary technology for its effectiveness. The DVD has an interesting short add-on called “The Realization of the Impossible” where the director and various others describe the creation of the artificial tsunami and the consequent river of destruction. A second short piece on the casting of the movie also deepens our appreciation of the actors’ achievement in an unusually demanding production process.
Inhabitants of the Winona area whose lives were dramatically changed by local flooding may feel “The Impossible” more deeply than others, though its impact is not limited to survivors of horrific events. Rated “PG-13,” the movie might actually help younger kids to identify and empathize with others, to see what they might be capable of in similar circumstances. “Parental guidance,” in this case, may provide some valuable insights about family, charity, and just plain old courage.