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The Impossible

One family's true story of survival after the 2004 Tsunami

The most harrowing disaster movie in many a moon, The Impossible marries a tremendous feat of physical filmmaking to an emotional true story of family survival. Cannily fusing spectacle and inspiration, Spanish director J. A. Bayona captures the devastation wrought by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami with a raw, sickening intensity. Based on the true experiences of a Spanish family (their nationality changed to British in the film), the title refers to the extraordinary circumstances by which they endured one of the deadliest catastrophes in modern history. Businessman Henry Bennett (Ewan McGregor) and his doctor wife, Maria (Naomi Watts), arrive at a Thai beach resort with their three boys on Christmas Eve, arguing, laughing and playing like any loving family – right when disaster strikes. In a staggeringly vivid 10-minute reconstruction, 98-foot-high tidal waves sweep through Thailand’s coastal towns, flinging people, cars and debris around like dolls. Almost immediately, the enormous walls of water separate Maria and oldest son Lucas (Tom Holland) from Henry and the two younger boys, Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast). Steadying themselves by clinging to a felled tree, Lucas and a badly injured Maria drift in an ocean of debris toward open water. The film details every groan, scrape and shudder of their attempt to survive with almost unbearable deliberation; meanwhile, Henry searches for them amid the wreckage of the resort, unsure of how best to take care of Thomas and Simon. Watts has few equals at conveying physical and emotional extremis, and McGregor, in one of his better recent performances, manages to turn a simple phone call home into a small aria of heartbreak. Holland, in his live-action big screen debut, is wonderful as a kind, somewhat short-tempered kid who still has plenty to learn, setting the tone for similarly heartrending turns by young Joslin and Pendergast. Collaborating again after their impressive 2007 debut feature, The Orphanage, Bayona and screenwriter Sánchez get many things right here, starting with their decision to eschew a more panoramic view of the disaster to follow one family’s journey from start to finish. The stripped-down approach suits an intimate story of individuals pushed to their limits – to a place where survival and reunion become their sole priorities. TV news footage is kept to a refreshing minimum; any context about the scope of the tragedy is gleaned primarily from the Bennetts’ sympathetic conversations with their fellow refugees. Lessons about the nobility of sacrifice and the satisfaction of helping others in times of crisis emerge stirringly and organically from the characters’ experiences, along with spontaneous moments of life-affirming humour. – Justin Chang, VarietyOfficial Trailer

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Directed by: 
Juan Antonio Bayona
Running Time: 
Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast, Geraldine Chaplin
Screenplay by: 
Sergio G. Sánchez

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