So much of what occurred during the 2004 earthquake in the Indian Ocean and the subsequent tsunami that followed was both breathtaking and staggering to witness for those of us who saw the news footage. To see those that survived the disaster, one cannot begin to comprehend the type of ordeal that they had to go through, and those who managed to reunite with loved ones are even luckier still. One of those stories is retold in The Impossible, which garnered critical acclaim for some of its performers.
The film is based on the story of María Belón and her family, who relayed their experiences to Sergio Sánchez and Juan Antonio Bayona (both of whom created the 2008 film (The Orphanage). Sánchez wrote the screenplay and Bayona directed María (Naomi Watts, J. Edgar) is a mother of three boys and once-practicing doctor who has taken time off to raise her three children, and the husband/father is Henry (Ewan McGregor, Beginners), and the British family temporarily lives in Japan as Henry serves an employment contract. They decide to spend the Christmas holiday in Thailand at a resort and are at the resort's pool when the tsunami occurs. The family is separated as a result (Maria and the oldest son from Henry and the youngest two), and the film shows them attempting to connect to each other once again.
There is little getting around the story without flirting with a spoiler or two, but suffice to say considering the nature of the catastrophe, the film is very emotional. Lots of people died during the tsunami, and we see many bodies and the devastation for it. But there are some positive moments which prove to be just as emotional. Lucas and María find a smaller child in the wake of the tsunami and they take him to a hospital, and the child appears to be plucked straight out of a Hallmark card. Once they get to the hospital, the child is reunited with his father, and the imagery is simple and brilliant. Since I am on the topic, once they do get to the hospital, Lucas takes on the role of finding patients to waiting and hopeful family members, and the occasional success he has is just as poignant.
It could be very easy for the filmmakers to get in the way of the story and toss a bunch of shiny objects into the journey to distract the viewer. Thankfully Bayona does no such thing, though he does manage to surreptitiously draw the viewer in to be part of the family's tribulations. The film spends just enough time showing us how the family is structured and how the children act. Lucas (the oldest) has entered the period in his lift where he wants to be left alone and not talk to his parents; we all either have or know someone who had that time with their parents. Watts garnered the most praise for her work in The Impossible, but the surprise of the film was Tom Holland, who portrays him. In the first on-screen performance of his young career, watching Lucas emerge from the stereotypical independent young teen to one reliant on his mother and eventually showing enough personal strength for both of them is just as compelling as Watts' survival. Holland almost matches her stride for stride as Lucas slowly realizes how much he has to do not just for his mother, but for others who may be injured but are in similar circumstances. Come to the movie for Watts' performance, but stay for Holland's.
Not to gloss over McGregor's performance, as it is also fine in its own right. While María and Lucas are trying to find some semblance of civilization after the tsunami, Henry's quest is slightly different, in that he is trying to find them. He has his own share of heartbreaking moments, worst among them may be the phone call he places to his parents informing them that he does not know where María is. McGregor has quietly turned into a well-rounded and deeper actor with each performance. Seeing Sönke Möhring (who many will recognize as the last surviving Nazi in Inglourious Basterds) as a German tourist trying to find his own family is a minor bonus, and he serves as a nice support mechanism for Henry as they both try to find what they lost so suddenly.
For an odd reason, The Impossible does not hold a place for me as a 'memorable' movie. But this is not a bad thing; it tells the story of the Belón family in a straightforward manner, and the story is tear-jerking and uplifting, as the tsunamis were. Sometimes the best way to tell a story is the easiest, and that is what The Impossible gets right in a big way.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The film is presented in high definition and 2.35:1 widescreen using the AVC codec, with little to complain about during viewing. Image detail among the faces of the tourists is abundant, and in the background objects can be readily discerned, and the palm fronds being easy to view. The color palette is reproduced nicely, with many browns and greens looking good without oversaturation, and occasional fresh wounds bleeding a vivid yet accurate shade of red. Black levels are consistent and provide a decent contrast, and film grain is spotted during viewing, while the overall film looks great with nary a hint of DNR.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround track is better than anticipated. To be sure, the tsunami pounds each of the channels with a clarity and fury that was to be expected, but the sounds of immersion underwater come through just as effectively. Other things such as directional effects from the children playing on the beach sound clear, and airplane sounds that bookend the story continue to provide a small sense of dread for María and for the viewer. The subwoofer further demonstrates the power and rounds out the low end nicely. All in all a superb listening experience.
Bayona, Sánchez, Belón and producer Belén Atienza join forces for a commentary which is a mix of Belón's experiences plus recollection on the production. Both components of this track are effective, and if they were edited together, one would be hard-pressed to find the seams in the track. Belón discusses the difficulties to this day about some of the experiences with the tsunami, and the crew discusses meeting with here and her eventual divulgence of information. Belón also talks about what was authentic and what was not, and the detail of production recall among the cast being fairly impressive. Bayona discusses the shot and scene intent as well, and the overall track is not bad to listen to. Next are two innocuous featurettes: "Casting The Impossible" (6:38) and "Realizing The Impossible" (5:54) are self-explanatory, with the cast and crew discussing their work amongst one another and the ordeal in re-creating the tsunami and its impact. A redeemable code for the Ultraviolet service rounds things out.
By taking the simplest, most direct route, The Impossible effects the viewer in the most direct way possible without the need of dramatic embellishment. Technically the disc tends to do well for itself and from a bonus material perspective is not too bad as well. Definitely one to explore now that its video life is being realized.