The ‘based on a true story’ tag can give your film some leeway when it comes to presenting an apparently implausible story, but on the other hand, closely adhering to the facts can also be a hindrance to the drama, as is the case in ‘The Impossible’.
So let’s get this out the way, the 2004 tsunami hit several Asian countries and resulted in over 200,000 deaths. ‘The Impossible’ takes place in Thailand, but frankly, you wouldn’t necessarily know that. Although it is not a Hollywood film (it’s a Spanish production) it goes down the typical Hollywood movie route and focuses entirely on a wealthy western family, rather than an Asian one. This is all keeping with the real story but there are hardly any Thai characters in the film at all, even in the background.
The family in question are comprised of Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and their three sons, the eldest of which is immediately established as being rather irritating. We begin with them arriving from Japan to a holiday resort in Thailand, and then, probably within the first 10 minutes, the giant wave hits.
The tsunami hitting is an undeniably spectacular, and horrifying set-piece, and the film employs several aspects to make us feel what the terror of experiencing it might have been like, such as its use of sound and cutting to darkness, then bringing us back in with an underwater shot.
After the strength of this scene though, the rest of the film seriously pales in comparison. The wave results in the family being split into two groups, Naomi Watts and the eldest son, Ewan McGregor with the two younger ones.
Now the ending of the film could be considered a spoiler but I don’t quite see how seeing as it’s featured on one of the main posters for the film and basically revealed by the title. The two halves of the family have to survive on their own, unknowing of their relatives fates, for most of the rest of the story. While Watts’ character picks up a nasty leg injury, there just isn’t a great deal they need to overcome. They just walk around until they find some more people. Nothing they do feels particularly heroic. Again, this may be very accurate to the true story, but it’s not very interesting to watch, and their ultimate reunion just feels to be the result of good fortune, not hard work.
The acting from the two leads is very good, though not so much the teenage son. In all, ‘The Impossible’ is a well-made but problematic film, and nothing about the family’s journey feels ‘impossible’.