The Impossible is based on the true story of Maria Belón and her family, who survived the 2004 tsunami. It stars Naomi Watts as Maria Bennett and Ewan McGregor as her husband Henry.
The first time I heard about the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004, I was as shocked and horrified as everyone else. As the news channels fought for the ultimate prize of being the first to report on the tragedy, stories of miraculous survival were coming to light.
One of those stories was adapted for the big screen and I can truly say that I cheated myself by not seeing the film sooner. The Bennetts, along with their sons Lucas (played by the outstanding Tom Holland), Thomas (played by Samuel Joslin) and Simon (played by Oaklee Pendergast) are in Khao Lak, Thailand for the Christmas holiday. The people are friendly, the weather is warm and bright and the water is gorgeous. At the beginning, you see not just the Bennett family, but others as they enjoy their holidays and each other. On Christmas Eve, the Bennetts and others light garden lanterns and then watch as they float into the air, signaling the arrival of Christmas Day. Couples kiss, children marvel at the floating lanterns and everyone is happy. We watch as the Bennetts film each other on Christmas morning, waking their three boys and opening presents. They spend the day on the beach, kicking a red ball around, later going snorkeling. But when night falls, Maria is having trouble getting to sleep. So is Thomas. Could it be jetlag, as Thomas surmises, or something else? Maria does what most mothers would do when their children are troubled: she lets her son get into bed with her, holds him tight and soothes him by saying, “Close your eyes and think of something nice.”
The next day, the family is at the pool. The boys are playing table tennis while Mom and Dad are discussing the idea of Maria going back to work. Henry avoids the conversation by kissing his wife on the cheek and then jumping into the pool with the boys. Maria lets it go and pulls out a book to read. A woman is putting something on her husband’s back to ease his sunburn. A few people are lounging at the pool, soaking in the sun. A bartender is mixing drinks in a blender when the power suddenly shuts off. The wind begins to pick up, birds start flying away and lizards make a run for it. A loud noise catches everyone’s attention and they all look towards the beach. Palm trees are falling one by one, and there is screaming everywhere. Then a huge wall of water comes over, and through, the resort’s buildings, changing, and ending, lives forever.
A number of disaster movies have been made involving great bodies of water, The Poseidon Adventure and Titanic being the ones I remember vividly. But The Impossible gave me chills when I watched it for so many reasons, the first being the tsunami itself. Seeing how it devastated Khao Lak in a matter of minutes was terrifying. Nature does not pick and choose who it decides to harm, it just moves with a force that cannot be contained. The mere fact that there were any survivors was truly a miracle. The water literally swept everything away: buildings, cars, trees and people were moved with such force many were killed or injured by the debris in the water. Maria suffered that same fate, as in the film you see how she is tossed and turned in the water, her body punctured by branches, her neck strangled by seaweed, and various objects battering her body.
The performances in The Impossible are the other reasons why this movie affected me as much as it did. Under Juan Antonio Bayona’s (The Orphanage) direction, the cast was superb. Naomi Watts is Maria. She is tough, terrified, in pain, anxious. But above all, she is a mother. She forgets her own pain when she sees Lucas in the water and fights to get to him, suffering even more injuries in the process. Naomi Watts, who I think is truly a great actress, morphed into her character and showed such range. I believed that she was fighting for her life and the life of her son, that she was badly injured and possibly dying. There was not one moment that I did not think of Ms. Watts as Maria Bennett.
Another standout performance is that of Tom Holland, who plays eldest son Lucas Bennett. To say he was outstanding is an understatement. Tom Holland was magnificent. Before The Impossible, Tom was best known for his role as Billy Elliot in Billy Elliot The Musical, which he performed at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London’s West End. As Lucas, Tom’s acting ability shines through, particularly in scenes where the Bennetts’ eldest son has to put his fear aside and take charge. In one particular scene, Maria, Lucas and a small child they find while looking for shelter named Daniel, have to climb a tree where they’ll be safe. Maria, who has a severely injured leg, tries to make it up the tree. But Lucas, knowing his mother won’t make it, takes over, giving Maria not only physical support, but emotional as well. At times, I felt like Tom was the star of the film, as his ability to act on par with Ms. Watts makes one take notice. Tom Holland is an actor we should all watch, as I have no doubt that he will become a star.
Other notable performances are Ewan McGregor, whose portrayal of a desperate Henry looking for his wife and son was heartbreaking, and Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast as the littlest Bennetts, who I think could teach some adults a thing or two about acting.
After watching the film, take a moment to view the bonus features, which include deleted scenes, two behind-the-scenes featurettes, including one that shows how the tsunami was recreated for this film, and audio commentary by Director Juan Antonion Bayona, Writer Sergio Sánchez, Producer Bélen Atienza and survivor Maria Belón. There is also a public service announcement about the Happy Hearts Fund, which is a non-profit foundation which rebuilds schools and helps children affected by natural disasters.
The Impossible from Summit Entertainment is out now on Blu-Ray, DVD, Video on Demand and Pay-Per-View.