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The Independent Critic

Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast
J.A. Bayona
Sergio Sanchez (Screenplay), Maria Belon (Story)
Rated PG-13
114 Mins.
Summit Entertainment
Extras will include an audio commentary with director J.A. Bayona, writer Sergio G. Sánchez and producer Belén Atienza and María Belón, 2 featurettes ("Casting The Impossible", "Realizing The Impossible"), deleted scenes, and a digital copy of the film.

 "The Impossible" a Heartfelt Story Both Intimate and Epic 
The Impossible is certainly not the easiest film to watch, even for late year audiences accustomed to challenging viewing during the always more intense and dramatic awards season.

For audiences that brave the film, however, The Impossible will be a richly rewarding experience with what has to be one of the most harrowing sequences ever of a natural disaster ever captured on film. Director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage) has taken one family's story and created an unforgettable film centered around 2004's Indian Ocean tsunami that killed nearly 250,000 people. While most films depicting a natural disaster certainly aim for as much realism as possible, seldom if ever has there been a film where even watching the event unfold has been such a dizzying and visually overwhelming experience. While it doesn't quite feel as if we're experiencing it ourselves, and thankfully the film's not in 3-D, it does feel like we've got a far too close seat to the action than we'd ever want to have in real life.

The Impossible focuses most of its attention on a British executive, Henry Bennett (Ewan McGregor), vacationing in Thailand with his physician wife Maria (Naomi Watts) and their three kids Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast). What starts out as a seemingly normal vacation in the beautiful land of Thailand quickly becomes an unfathomable fight for survival amongst hundreds of thousands of dead and overwhelmed living. As the flood waters crash in, Maria and Lucas become separated from Henry, Thomas and Simon. Survival is never quite certain, and determining survival becomes impossible in a nation struggling to coordinate an emergency response with so many fatalities, so many unidentified survivors and so many children whose parents are either dead or missing. It's hard to watch The Impossible without becoming almost breathless at the awesomeness of it all and the overwhelming nature of the tragedy.

The Impossible proves once and for all that J.A. Bayona is a directorial talent, even if the film does occasionally cross the line into being emotionally manipulative and even if it does seem almost unjust to focus on one story, and that of outsiders, when there were so many tragedies in this disaster. Bayona, however, masterfully builds remarkably suspenseful sequences that grip you and refuse to let you go. His scene construction is mesmerizing, and even when the film comes down to "Will they all survive?" and "How can they possibly find each other?" it's an absolutely hypnotic and unforgettable journey.

It's to Bayona's credit that he is able to balance the epic nature of this disaster with the intimacy of these stories. How often have we watched news reports about a disaster thousands of miles away and thought to ourselves "Thank God that doesn't impact me." In The Impossible, this disaster that unfolds has a rippling effect that reaches right into the audience and shakes some sense of personal responsibility into us.

In most years, Naomi Watts would be a shoo-in for an Oscar nomination with a performance that is absolutely mesmerizing and emotionally devastating. While she's severely injured for a good majority of the film, Watts manages to communicate both bravado and vulnerability and absolute spirit every step of the way. The same is true for Ewan McGregor, whose devotion to those he finds and those he can't find is both inspirational and difficult to watch. Young Tom Holland, in what amounts to the film's leading male performance, gives an unforgettable performance as the son whose fight for survival is filled with both his youthful vulnerabilities and his bit-by-bit discovery of a strength he never knew was inside.

The Impossible is a technical marvel, and it's a shame to think that it will be outshined this awards season by the bigger budgeted films that seem to always take home awards season's technical awards. It's difficult to even imagine how Bayona created this tsunami effect, a marvel of technology that will cling to your senses long after you've watched the film. Oscar Faura's cinematography is nothing short of amazing, while everyone involved with the film's special effects deserves major kudos.

The Impossible is the kind of film that you hope and pray finds the audience it so richly deserves, because it's a story that deserves to be told and a film that accomplishes the seemingly impossible on what amounts to a fairly modest budget of $30 million given the remarkable production quality. It's not out of the question that The Impossible will squeeze in as a Best Picture Oscar nominee this year, though in what has been an exceptional year at the cinema it could be hard-pressed to get the attention it deserves.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic