Naomi Watts cries, screams and whimpers in The Impossible, a foolishly titled movie about a very serious incident involving Thailand, the year 2004 and a tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people. At times powerful, at other times drawn out and melodramatic, The Impossible is an engaging if overeager drama.
The Impossible begins with a visually intense sequence of mass destruction. Featuring terrific special effects (unlike the terrible Oscar-nominated effects seen at the beginning of the terrible Clint Eastwood movie Hereafter) and finely tuned direction by Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage), the tsunami scene is simultaneously breathtaking and gripping.
The movie slowly fades from there, with an emphasis on slowly; while it understandably never matches the intensity found in the film's first half hour, it only really falters near the end. More on that in a minute.
The first half of The Impossible focuses on the survival of Maria (Watts) and her son Lucas (Tom Holland). This part of the film moves swiftly and depicts not only the devastation but the efforts by locals to save those affected.
When Bayona switches gears to cover Ewan McGregor's character, the movie loses its edge. The change is abrupt and in some ways feels not only repetitive of the first half but also less important. By this point it is now clear that the entire family has survived (had you watched the previews you would know as much), which means that the rest of the film is about everyone finding each other. As the story progresses, the intensity wanes and the movie turns into an obnoxious waiting game.
You know how it's going to end, but Bayona takes a long time getting to it. The last twenty minutes are a slog as all of the characters conveniently convene at the exact same location at the exact same time. There's a lot of crying, silent staring and a weird and unnecessary dream sequence that features Naomi Watts surfacing above the water to really loud orchestral music.
Naomi Watts was nominated for an Oscar for her performance. She delivers a strong performance, even though she largely disappears for the second half and spends much of her screen time lying in a hospital bed. The better and more surprising performance comes from young Holland, who really is the central character.
The Impossible is a good movie that tells a powerful, at least partially true story. Still, it suffers from a third act that, while uplifting, is predictable and overly melodramatic. At least Naomi Watts does a good job crying, screaming and whimpering.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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