The Impossible — which just garnered a Best Actress Oscar nomination for Naomi Watts — is a film about people tested by tsunamis — Thailand's 2004 whopper being the particular culprit here. Not a very merry Christmas present— the horrific, based-on-a-true story event took place on December 26th of that year, turning a lovely family holiday into the stuff disaster pictures are made of.
A tsunami Thailand-style is not to be wished upon your worst enemies, nor as it turns out, on filmgoers. After an obligatory set-up of Watts, her husband (Ewan McGregor) and three kids cavorting happily on the beach at their seaside resort, mother nature comes in screaming like a banshee, washing away buildings, boats and trucks and shattering many innocent lives.
Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona is to be congratulated mightily for the verisimilitude achieved in re-creating this powerful act of nature. As we have seen in news clips of the Japanese tsunami, such a wall of water turns life-sized objects into children's toys, and Bayona conveys the terror and ungodly force of the incident in gripping fashion.
But then a problem ensues: after the unforgettable tsunami sequence is over, and we've watched Naomi Watts and her eldest son swept through debris-strewn rapids for what seems like miles, what to do for the next hour of the drama? In a nutshell, it involves the family members trying to reunite after being separated, a far less engaging scenario, and one which the director milks like a dairy farmer for all of its two-handkerchief potential.
Mind you, that too could have provided fodder for a deeply satisfying second and third act, if director Bayona wasn't so intent on telegraphing the emotional subtext in such hammy and overwrought fashion. Muchos tortured and meaningful looks are exchanged between Watts and her son Lucas (Tom Holland) as he tends to her in hospital afterwards, so much so you wish they were wearing sunglasses after a while. And half of her gruesome grunts and groans would have done nicely, thank you. Hey, it's a movie theater — not an ER! Enough is enough — we get it, she's in PAIN!! Oscar nomination? Maybe for over-acting….
As if the performances weren't melodramatic enough, the cloying and mawkish music as composed by one Fernando Velazquez dots the I's so assiduously, further conveying how we should "feel," that I wanted to shout at the screen: "Let us do some of the work!" There is a fine line between pathos and bathos, or overdoing sentiment to the point of strangulation. We are all adults here, we know how to react without being given a primer and a sharp number 2 pencil. I'll give the tsunami sequence an 'A' for amazing and the next two acts an 'F' for forgettable.