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The Impossible is difficult to stomach

By in Culture
Maria Belon (Naomi Watts) clings to her son Lucas (Tom Holland) in a moment of desperation in The Impossible.
Maria Belon (Naomi Watts) clings to her son Lucas (Tom Holland) in a moment of desperation in The Impossible.

The Impossible is the true account of a Spanish family of five caught in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami that occurred Dec. 26, 2004 in Thailand.

The movie is gut-wrenching and suspenseful from the peak of the wave until the plane ride home. Horrific yet compelling, it’s been deemed by many reviewers as one of the best films of 2012.

However, The Impossible is a little too much. There’s no breathing room in the film’s 114-minute run time, leaving audience members clenching their armrests and hard-pressed to look at the screen.

At some points it’s hard not to think director Juan Antonio Bayona is trying to see how often he can make the viewer squirm.

As the second wave of the tsunami hits, the film is calm; mother and son cling to a tree, withstanding the brute, devastating force of the water. The familiar  rhythmic, deep notes made famous by Jaws in 1975 play faintly in the background. The camera pans out, and for the moment, at least, our protagonists are safe.

There are no sharks in these waters: just rusting vehicles, toppled plants and people suffering in the wreckage.

It’s not just that scene, though. The music in The Impossible is incredibly heavy-handed. With an event as dramatic as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, music should not be necessary to relay the devastation — it should be made clear from the visuals, the wreckage and the human interaction. By being so gauche, the soundtrack steals focus from the calamity rather than highlighting it. Tellingly, in the moments Bayona chooses silence, the film excels.

Though somewhat washed out by the audio, the film’s visuals are strong. Bayona had a lot of content to work with and manages to capture the horror in a way that transfers well to the screen. The scenes are fast-paced and dramatically composed. As the wave hits, the visuals become rhythmic as if each moment aligns with a collective heartbeat.

Unfortunately, this movie isn’t about Thailand and the effects of the tsunami on its population. The story is the account of a family of five who — spoiler alert — manage to survive relatively unscathed, hop on a plane and sell their story to Hollywood. It’s heartwarming, action-packed and fast-paced but, for a true story, glances over the damage done to Thailand’s population.

The movie is about the Belon family, which consists of Henry (Ewan McGregor), his wife Maria (Naomi Watts) and their three sons Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast). Most of the film follows Lucas and Maria after the tsunami hits and the viewer is left to wonder if the rest of the family survived.

With the exception of her unconvincing accent in the opening scenes of the movie, Watts is phenomenal and received a deserved Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for her performance. Holland, who plays the eldest son, also gives an impressive performance.

This movie isn’t a commentary on the disaster. However, although Bayona passed over the brunt of the devastation and only covered the first two or three days of the disaster, the film drew attention to the victims of the tsunami.

In fact, Maria Belon, on whom Watts’s character is based, became a spokesperson for victims of the disaster and worked closely with Watts and Bayona on the film.

The Indian Ocean tsunami killed more than 230,000 people in 14 countries. It was caused by an underwater earthquake on Dec. 26, 2004 off the west coast of Indonesia.

After finishing its run at the Roxy, The Impossible is now playing at Rainbow Cinemas in The Centre Mall.


Image: Supplied

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