Or: The days after tomorrow.
I can’t help but draw a comparison between J.A. Bayona’s The Impossible and Sebastian Lelio’s 2010 El año del tigre. Sure, Lelio’s movie is about the earthquake that happened in Chile in 2010 while Bayona’s The Impossible is about the 2004 Thailand tsunami but both of them fall more or less into the same type of physical film-making that puts its characters through, literally, hell or high water, all the while struggling to survive the aftermath of a disaster. And the actors with them, of course.
While I my dislike for Lelio’s Año del Tigre is immense, I quite enjoyed Bayona’s movie. One could argue against it that it’s just another disaster movie or, as I’ve read on some forums, that it’s a rather racist movie (Why do we need to see the drama of the white people?), it is elevated from that status by the wonderful cinematography, great acting and some very interesting sound design choices.
The Impossible (or Lo Imposible, call it as you will) is the true story of a Spanish family that managed to survive the tsunami and reunite after they are separated by the wave. In the movie, the family is played by one of my favorite actresses (Naomi Watts) and one of my favorite actors (Ewan McGregor) – with the family now being either English or Australian. They are joined by newcomers Oaklee Pendergast, Samuel Joslin and Tom Holland as their children.
While Bayona’s previous movie, The Orphanage, did not do anything for me – I found it rather flat and weak, the main reason I decided to see this one was because of my love for the two main actors, because I was sure that they would turn in superb performances and, frankly, because I was curious how the tsunami sequences wound turn out and, if only for these things alone, this movie deserves a viewing.
Naomi Watts is at her best here, since Mulholland Drive. Sure, her performances in 21 Grams and in I Heart Huckabees were sublime, but here she goes back to that pure desperation and raw emotion she light up the screen with in Lynch’s masterpiece. Ewan McGregor is no bad actor himself but the children steal his spotlight – I only hope that they’re not one hit wonders.
Where the movie shines, apart from the acting, is in the portrayal of the tsunami and in it’s physical aftermath. It’s not a lengthy sequence but it’s done so, for lack of a better word, beautiful that I got goose bumps. The decors and the make-up which complete the looming presence of the tsunami (before and after) are gorgeous and extremely well done – just look at the bruises and the injuries and you’ll understand what I’m talking about, not to mention that amazing slow-motion sequence of Naomi rising out of the waves which is truly masterful.
Beyond that, the movie doesn’t quite work: it’s overly melodramatic even for the subject at hand and the music is simply awful, the soundtrack being full of lamenting strings and your run-of-the-mill dramatic music but it’s worth the watch for the great acting and the tsunami. You’re not going to want to see it twice, however.