Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona exploits an international tragedy - 2004’s Indian Ocean tsunami - to tell a syrupy story about a wealthy white family dealing with adversity while completely ignoring the thousands of others who suffered as much or worse.
When a disaster movie is as disastrous as “The Impossible,” no one is spared from the carnage created by the worst torrent of treacle since the Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919. Like last year’s abhorrent “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close,” Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona exploits an international tragedy to tell a syrupy story about a wealthy white family dealing with adversity while completely ignoring the thousands of others who suffered as much or worse. In this case, that would be the 228,000 souls washed off the face of the earth by 2004’s Indian Ocean tsunami. Instead of focusing on them, Bayona trains his intrusive camera on an affluent Spanish family of five that sustained nothing more than cuts, bruises and a whole lot of inconvenience after being swept up by the wall of water while on Christmas vacation in sunny Phuket, Thailand.
Bayona doesn’t even have the decency to let the Alvarez Belons clan retain their Spanish identity, converting them instead into lily white Anglo-Saxons from jolly ole England, apparently for more palpable U.S. consumption. But even if the family remained Español, Bayona’s film would be in a heap of trouble simply because Sergio G. Sanchez’s script is so myopic in its scope. To see “The Impossible,” you’d think Maria Belons (Naomi Watts), her husband, Henry (Ewan McGregor), and their three children, Luke (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendercast), were the only people impacted by the tsunami. Seldom, if ever, does the camera pull back to give us even a hint of the enormous devastation and grief heaped upon the native Asian population.
To the contrary, we only see them kowtowing to their sandy-haired European visitors, who’ve had the misfortune to either be injured or separated from their families. Maria and her brood fit into both categories, but it’s clear early on that all five will survive. And the fact that a movie was made about them pretty much is a guarantee Maria and Luke, staying put in a makeshift medical facility, will eventually be reunited with Henry and the other two kids at the end of a not-too-arduous search. So, where’s the drama? Where’s the suspense? And more importantly, why should we care? The truth is, you don’t. I was seriously bored by it all after about 15 minutes of observing Watts, in the wake of the tsunami, screaming, grunting and unintentionally flashing her breasts to the lucky adolescent actor playing her son. As for McGregor, he’s pretty much a nonentity. Only Holland, doing man-sized work at the tender age of 13, really shines in an otherwise pedestrian cast. But even he pales in comparison to the film’s chief asset: it’s harrowing, but thrilling, re-enactment of the tsunami. Filmed almost entirely in a football-field-sized tank and fortified with miniatures and a dash of computer enhancements, the nearly 10-minute sequence is a remarkable achievement for Bayona (“The Orphanage”) and his brave actors, who risked drowning, bludgeoning and other indignities in service of the movie. But it so dwarfs everything that follows, it only confirms the weakness of the story.
Page 2 of 2 - And after all the grief heaped upon Mitt Romney for being wealthy and privileged, does America really want to see another band of rich prigs whining about how bad they have it? Not bloody likely. And that alone makes Bayona’s chances of turning disaster into gold pretty near impossible.
THE IMPOSSIBLE (PG-13 for intense realistic disaster sequences, including disturbing injury imagery and brief nudity.) Cast includes Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and Tom Holland. Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona. At Kendall Square, Cambridge. Grade: D.