This review was originally published on Pol Culture.
The Impossible, directed by J. A. Bayona from a script credited to Sergio G. Sánchez, is an earnest disaster-genre melodrama. The setting is Thailand in December 2004, when a massive tsunami swamped the Indian Ocean coastline in several countries. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor star as a vacationing British couple who were caught in the flooding with their three young sons (Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, and Oaklee Pendergrast). The production values are first-rate, and Bayona does a fine job of staging the action and pacing the film. The scenes featuring Watts and Holland (who plays the oldest son) trying to make their way through the flooded landscape are especially gripping. The depiction of the tsunami as it strikes the resort where the family is staying is also quite impressive. But the script isn’t very imaginative. It simply follows the family members as they become (repeatedly) separated and reunited. One wishes the filmmakers had put together a more substantial story. One may also be put off by the use of WASP characters to dramatize a catastrophe whose victims (over 200,000 killed) were almost entirely South Asian. Watts and McGregor give good performances in rather banal roles. The most compelling member of the cast is Tom Holland, who completely catches the viewer up in the travails of a child forced to rise to the physical and emotional challenges of the situation. The film is based on the account of María Belón, a Spanish woman whose family survived the tsunami. The fine cinematography is by Óscar Faura.