Any movie that opens with the words “based on a true story” instantly puts me on my guard. I usually spend the entire length of the movie examining just how credible the story really is, then fact-checking damn near every aspect just to work out where fact ends and fiction begins.
Going into The Impossible, I was heartened to hear that María Belón, the woman whose story the film tells, publicly stated that the movie’s biggest lie was the colour of her sons’ ball. That seal of authenticity from someone who lived through such a horrific event isn’t something that should be taken lightly, but it did set the bar pretty high for the cinematic experience I was embarking upon. Of all the emotions that The Impossible made me feel, disappointment certainly wasn’t one of them.
Starring Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and an impossibly young Tom Holland in his first live-action film role, The Impossible follows the Bennett family (a fictionalised version of the Belón family) and their experience of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami and its immediate aftermath.
Opening with the family arriving at a resort in Khao Lak in Thailand, the film’s first five minutes are a blur of slightly disjointed scenes detailing the Bennetts’ first two days in Khao Lak. It’s a strange start, with very little done to flesh the characters out, but it’s cut short by the colossal wave that wipes the resort off the map, separating the Bennett family in the process.
Naomi Watts spends much of the film bedbound – as Maria is pretty horrifically injured by the wave – but she delivers a solidly emotional performance as the chaos continues to unfold around her. McGregor’s performance is also a high point, as he must make the impossible choice between caring for his two youngest sons and attempting to find Maria and Lucas. His frayed, frantic state of shock feels uncomfortably real, and it makes for incredibly difficult viewing.
However, despite Watts and McGregor taking top billing, Holland is undoubtedly the star in the role of 12 year old Lucas Bennett. Tasked with keeping track of his mother as the waves of injured survivors roll in to an impossibly overcrowded Thai hospital, Holland takes us on a tour of his remarkable acting talent as his character experiences hope, loss, elation and despair in turns.
The Impossible delivered a cinematic experience like no other. It’s a painful exploration of one of the most deadly natural disasters on record, and it certainly doesn’t hold back – although it does adequately display the sense of community and compassion that followed the disaster. Throughout the movie, the Thai locals and medical staff are shown to work tirelessly to help the injured, despite many of them having lost homes and loved ones of their own, and The Impossible stands as a testament to the better side of human nature.
It’s in no way an easy movie to watch. The stark realism on display is enough to make you feel as though you’re personally caught up in the disaster, and the decision to tell the Belón family’s story was almost certainly an attempt to give audiences a happier ending than they would have otherwise hoped for, but if you can steel yourself for a true emotional rollercoaster, The Impossible is well worth the journey.
Summary: An utterly unique and powerful story, The Impossible is packed with painful truth brought to life by multiple instances of masterful acting. There’s a lot to see, think, and feel, and that might not be for everyone, but it really is something special.