Directed by: J.A. Bayona
Produced by: Alvaro Augustin
Enrique Lopez Lavigne
Screenplay by: Sergio G. Sanchez
Starring: Naomi Watts
Music by: Fernando Velasquez
Cinematography by: Oscar Faura
Editing by: Elena Ruiz
Studio(s): Apaches Entertainment
Distributed by: Warner Bros. (Spain)
Summit Entertainment (United States)
Entertainment One (United Kingdom)
Release date(s): September 9, 2012 (TIFF)
October 11, 2012 (Spain)
December 21, 2012 (United States)
January 1, 2013 (United Kingdom: certain regions)
Running time: 113 minutes
Production budget: $45 million
Box office revenue (as of publication): $60, 429, 747
Alright there, folks, at risk of sounding poxy, I hope you all are enjoying your Christmas holidays, as I can assure you I have. I'm banging this review out before I head to work today lounging in my exquisite new dressing gown bought for me by my Mum and Dad, who I spent Christmas with, and, along with another section of the McCready contingency had a raucous time. Put it this way, when you start watching Videodrome at three or four in the morning (give or take), you know that you've been having a good night. So, for more updates on the details of my private life (many of which are fabricated: that is a lie in itself!) and the occasional review, keep your eyes posted!
Today's film up for digestion is The Impossible, an English-language disaster drama made by Spanish companies Apaches Entertainment and Telecinco Cinema, with much of the same crew that worked together on 2007's The Orphanage, including writer Sergio G. Sanchez and director Juan Antonio Bayona. For those of you who don't know, it has been five years after all, I loved The Orphanage, and I consider it and The Mist (also from that year) two of the best horror films since the start of the twenty-first century. The Impossible is a different kettle of fish then for this crew. Starring Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor (2010 winner of a Thin White Dude award as Best Male Supporting Actor for the eponymous part in I Love You, Philip Morris) as a husband and wife, who take their three children on holiday for Christmas to Thailand. However, this is unfortunately Christmas 2004, and their idyllic vacation is disturbed on Boxing Day when a tsunami (the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami) destroys the coastal zone. The family are separated, and what follows in the film is their struggles and attempts to reunite in the midst of such chaos. Get the drift? (My goodness, that's a horrible pun!)
Starting with the good, I must address the acting. As you can tell from my parentheses up there, I'm a fan of Ewan McGregor, and I think he's terrific here again. He has such a natural quality to him that you can't help but look at his characters not as something constructed on the page but as real people. Playing it restrained, his weather-beaten determination says more than any melodramatic histrionics could, and going down this route makes it all the more devastating when he does show emotion. There's a wonderful scene when he and various other people are discussing their families, trading war stories, that's one of the best parts of the movie. Naomi Watts too gives a strong lead performance. Pushed to the very limit, both emotionally and physically, Watts takes us through her character to hell and back. While she is undeniably a strong mother, it is obvious that her Maria is subject to the same vulnerabilities of human beings and never once is there an air of contrivance. The same likewise can be said of the three young actors Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast and particularly Tom Holland, who really shines as the eldest son Lucas. As strong and forceful a screen presence as either of his onscreen parents, Holland succeeds in the hard task of making a child seem a legitimate equal to an adult, and it's something that could have went either way, but Holland is excellent. Right, acting front done, let's get to the other aspects of the film. One of the best aspects of the technical side is that it's a fantastically-shot film. Oscar Faura's cinematography is among the year's best, seeming to hit every note appropriately. The location is majestic in it's beauty and Faura's camerawork in the tsunami almost seems to actively work in destroying the images he has conjured. Also, I can't recall a disaster film or action film (I'm including The Raid!) whose cinematography made me feel so much an active participant/observer in what is happening to the characters. Furthermore, not only does he avoid shaky-cam nonsense, Faura's crisp clarity and quality of image is a marvel to behold, with every bit of grime, sweat, tears, blood and pain coming up on the actors' faces, doing a great job in further highlighting their performances, which frankly could be threatened with being dwarfed by the anarchy. Also, from a production design and overall mise-en-scene standpoint it's quite an accomplished film. The film has a $45 million budget, but for all the ingeniousness, detail and craft that has went in the design, it could be a film with twice the budget. I've been doing my research, and I still can't tell if they shot that scene with Watts and Holland in the raging rapids in a large studio bathtub or went out and did it! These actors, though all of them have what you would call attractive faces, are not glamorous whatsoever, and you do believe that they have been battered within an inch of their lives, and I'd put that to some great work from the costume and make-up departments. Also, the hospital which some of the characters are holed up in is completely believable, with such care and detail going into making the audience buy this, and extras filling up the place to breaking point. Finally, The Impossible is proof of the worth and weight of the film's director J.A. Bayona. Like his work on The Orphanage, he exemplifies a control and respect for the material. The Impossible is something that really could have been run of the mill Oscar-bait or something you'd find made-for-TV around the Holiday season, but Bayona is not afraid to depict an unflinching look at the horror of such disasters. Furthermore, I've said this before and I'll say it again, he is just an instinctively natural storyteller. Finally, he digs deep to the crux of this thing and ultimately finds and accentuates what really makes an audience connect with this kind of material.
While what is good about The Impossible is very good indeed, there are a number of issues that deny it an ascent into the pantheon of the greats. The script was mostly fine, but there were a couple of little things that took away from the seriousness of the proceedings. I went to see the film on account of free tickets from Virgin Media with my good friend at Danland Movies (who also has a review up for the film), and with this presumably rich family on holiday in Thailand, as the children are opening their presents, my partner-in-crime let out the most almighty of guffaws. I turned to my left and asked him "what the hell's going on?", and he said back to me with incredulity "the kid got a ball for Christmas!", and sure enough, the youngest son had gotten the kind of red ball you pay about €2 at the beach in Enniscrone. As we were wetting ourselves with laughter, I quipped back "it'd have to be a symbol or plot device in order for a child to get a ball as a present for Christmas!", and sure enough, it was. I mean, you can't take things too seriously, but when a movie like this is producing guffaws from two resident critics, it's not a good thing! Definitely the most unintentionally funny moment in a film of the year! Also, I'd be lying if I didn't think that the final act of the film could have done with a bit more fine-tuning on the editing side of things, which is a shame really given how good the sound design/editing is. At certain points, which I don't want to say because I would be giving away plot points, it does lag considerably. Also, and I know this is familiar territory for those of you who follow the blog, I hated the music in this film. I like Fernando Velasquez's work in The Orphanage, which features an orchestral score that is both at odds and adds significantly to the gothic atmosphere of the film. Here, the music is like a horrible underscore that degrades and in fact debases a lot of the legitimacy of what is occurring onscreen. It's very hard to buy the emotion of a quieter scene whenever you have this ridiculous swelling and dribblesome crooning that says "This is a friendly reminder: YOU'RE MEANT TO CRY HERE! CRY, BITCH, CRY!" When this happens, I'm just going "No, not happening!" I mean, I'm listening presently to Howard Shore's wonderful work on The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and that is how you orchestral music without seeming saccharine. Velasquez's score is the aural equivalent to the massive gouge that poor Naomi Watts gets in the back of her leg! Awful, awful work.
Despite the odd scriptural contrivance, problematic editing and one of the single worst scores I have heard this year, The Impossible still manages to be a very good film. It features excellent acting, particularly from McGregor, Watts and Holland, terrific cinematography from Oscar Faura, and from an overall design and mise-en-scene standpoint, there is a great attention to detail and an obvious care and craft going into this. Finally, following on from his fantastic debut, it marks out J.A. Bayona as a naturally instinctive storyteller who brings out the best in the material that he is working upon.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 7.8/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - In stasis (two essays to do, slowly working myself towards them)