Review: “The Impossible” (****½)

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Tom Holland stars in “The Impossible”

The harrowing true story of the Alvarez family’s survival of and reunion following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami makes a most compelling basis for a film. I imagine that it didn’t take Juan Antonio Bayona very long to stake out his plans after hearing such an incredible tale. The Alvarez family becomes the Bennett family through the performances of Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast.

I’ll be the first to admit to my stone-hearted nature. I’m more inclined to be moved by a film’s trailer than I am during the film itself, and that usually has to do with a sweeping orchestral piece used to maximize the editor’s intended effect. “The Impossible” marks the first film to ever make me cry as an adult. I left the cinema with my eyes rung out dry and my heart a soggy mess.

It’s hard to say what I found to be the biggest takeaway from “The Impossible.” The performances, the direction and the production design are all in top form. Watts and McGregor act as deeply and naturally as any parents would if their family were ripped apart in a sudden, unexplainable natural disaster. Tom Holland, as the oldest son, sure is a great find. He might shed less tears than the other main players, but is most definitely the heart of the film. Geraldine Chaplin, Sönke Möhring and Ploy Jindachote appear as friendly faces in small and simple, but affecting roles.

I won’t confess to having been a fan of Bayona’s first film, “The Orphanage,” but I do remember being impressed with the director’s pronounced style. “The Impossible” marks no change of pace, but definite progression for Bayona; his artistry all the more vivid and polished. Under the hand of Bayona and the director of photography, Óscar Faura, the camera maintains a glassy equilibrium amidst the pandemonium. The frequent long, swift tracking shots are some of the most beautiful of the season. Bayona and Faura together have a bold eye, making the most of both high contrast and soft light. Fernando Velázquez’ beautiful score is a perfect compliment to the film’s momentum. As a side note, how “The Impossible” missed out on the bake-off for the Best Visual Effects Oscar is beyond me.

A story set amidst such catastrophe and loss, “The Impossible” is a breathless appeal for hope. Bayona’s skilled direction and a gifted cast make sure there are no loose seams or hanging threads. Naomi Watts earned a requisite Oscar nomination for Best Actress, but more of a studio push could have garnered the film the consideration it deserves across the board.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

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