The first thing that strikes you, to make your heart start beating just that little bit faster when watching the film 'The Impossible' are the words "This is a true story" that so casually pop up on screen before any introductory and perfunctory landscape shot. Not "based on a true story" or "inspired by a true story", but simple and matter-of-factly, "This is a true story". That, combined with its title 'The Impossible', lets you know straight away that you're in for something extraordinary - and it delivers.
The film follows the story of an English family (Spanish in real life) while on Christmas holiday in Thailand following the 2004 Southeast Asian boxing day tsunami. Maria (Naomi Watts) is swept away after first crashing through a glass wall by the force of the incoming wave. She eventually catches up with her eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland) in the torrent, and the pair have to make their way to safety, and, most importantly, medical help whilst worrying about the fate of their missing family members. Back at the almost completely destroyed hotel, Henry (Ewan McGregor) was playing with his two youngest boys in the pool when the wave hit. They're now all together with the other surviving hotel guest awaiting transport to shelters. Henry entrusts the brothers with a fellow victim so he can stay behind and inspect the damage, desperate to find his missing wife and child. The two parties are forced to fight separation and the unknown as they come to grips with what has happened to them and what will happen to them once the dust has cleared and reality sets in.
This film is extraordinary. The tsunami scenes are superbly shot, boasting seamless CGI and live action shots that put you within the disaster. Free of screaming victims and vision of mass casualties, the film focus on the human side of such an event. The world is aware of what happened that day, so choosing to focus on a single family and their story allows it to become more real, more raw and more engaging.
The assembled cast is just magic, with special mention to Tom Holland. This young actor's performance is all about the unspoken. His pain, wavering strength and vulnerability is written over of his face. Ewan McGregor's natural sincerity, brought to every one of his roles, unfortunately makes him easy to overlook without any overt characteristics - but that's exactly what makes him a magnificent actor, and this film is no exception. Naomi Watts' recent Oscar nomination is also deserved, as she effortlessly portrays a dying mother trying to stay strong and positive, believing she's the only remaining family member left for her son.
'The Impossible' is not for the faint of heart, but should not to be missed. The realism of this film is remarkable and thereby tough to watch, yet all the more rewarding for it.