[Screen It]


(2012) (Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor) (PG-13)

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Drama: A family must contend with the aftermath of a devastating tsunami while they vacation in Thailand.
Maria (NAOMI WATTS) and Henry Bennett (EWAN McGREGOR) have traveled with their three children -- Lucas (TOM HOLLAND), Thomas (SAMUEL JOSLIN) and Simon (OAKLEE PENDERGAST) -- from Japan to Thailand to spend their Christmas break. The day after Christmas, they spend time by the pool at their resort, not realizing the utter devastation that's headed their way. And that arrives in the form of a massive tsunami that sweeps over them and everyone else on the coast.

Badly injured, Maria spots Lucas and the two manage to make their way to safety in a big tree where they stay until locals rescue them. Elsewhere, Henry has survived with their younger boys and is determined not to go anywhere until he finds Maria and Lucas. With the help of other tourists as well as various locals, the family members do what they can to find each other.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Everyone seems to enjoy the notion of an overnight success, be that in the world of business, sports, entertainment or what have you, but in reality, most of those who've "suddenly" landed on the cultural and public radar have been around for some time. For instance, while Ewan McGregor starred in some of the most seen movies of our time (the "Star Wars" prequels), he first gained notice playing a heroin addict in Danny Boyle's "Trainspotting." Naomi Watts may have made a name for herself in "The Ring" horror series and earned acting accolades for her work in "21 Grams," but her first really noticed splash was in David Lynch's "Mulholland Drive."

A name that could very well be added to the list of notable breakthrough performances is their 16-year-old co-star in their latest joint film, "The Impossible." And that would be young Tom Holland who makes his big screen debut portraying their mature-beyond-his age son in this dramatic portrayal of an amazing if tragic real life story that unfolded in late 2004.

That's when an undersea earthquake triggered the Dec. 26th tsunami that swept across the Indian Ocean and ended up killing more than 230,000 souls. Views of that event -- accidentally captured at the moment it occurred and then immediately afterword -- mesmerized the world in footage that looked like something from a Hollywood disaster movie. Except that it was quite real and quite deadly.

Probably registering somewhere on the astronomical side of long odds, one family managed to survive the ordeal despite being swept away and separated by the wave on that fateful, post-Christmas morning. They were Maria and Henry Belon, along with their children Lucas, Thomas and Samuel, and their tale is now being told in this film helmed by director Juan Antonio Bayona ("The Orphanage").

I'm not sure why their names and ethnicity were changed for the film -- as they're shown and named in a photo at the end -- but that transition has no effect on the gripping and sometimes fairly harrowing storytelling courtesy of scribe Sergio G. Sánchez. Briefly introducing the family (that also includes the two younger sons played by Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast), the filmmakers show them as an affluent and happy unit where the biggest worry is whether their home's security system was turned on before they left.

After some brief Christmas holiday scenes, they set out for their resort's pool the next morning, only to have the tsunami unexpectedly strike. The several minute sequence -- comprised of both visual special effects and real performers being swept away by somewhat controlled and manufactured waves on the set -- might not be the first portrayal of that event (Clint Eastwood got there first with "Hereafter"), but it's certainly the most terrifying recreation of such a disaster.

After that, the first half of the film focuses on Watts and Holland as the mother-son duo who try to regain their composure after their world and that of everyone around them is completely turned upside down. Their immediate quest is to find some safe haven, and with the mom severely injured (in one of the more disturbing, injury-related visuals you'll ever see on film), the son has to become the adult.

That's where Holland shines and will likely draw more than one highly favorable comparison to another film featuring a kid having to do something similar in a foreign land -- "Empire of the Sun" featuring a young but amazing Christian Bale. While Watts is good and deserving of some movie award nomination love (as she portrays a mother determined to get her kid to safety despite her wounds sapping the very life from her), Holland is outstanding, and proves that he wasn't just a one-hit wonder starring in the stage version of "Billy Elliot." He should also get some award kudos, at least in any "breakthrough performance" categories.

The second half of the film then answers the question about what happened to her husband and two other kids, and we see that they survived and he's on a quest to find his wife and oldest son. I've always liked McGregor as he often brings an everyman quality to his characters that make them approachable and sympathetic. That certainly applies here, especially when he makes a short call home to report on what's happened, an emotionally moving moment.

That opportunity comes courtesy of a stranger, and the film is filled with various moments of people helping others in the moment of crisis. None of that's ever presented in a cloying fashion. Accordingly, only the most hardened of cynics won't be moved by the acts of kindness on display by people who simply come into and then go from the main characters' lives, doing their part, however small or big, to help. In that sense, it's an unapologetically uplifting picture in a time when the world needs more positive messages like that.

While the movie does get a bit repetitive at times (there are only so many ways one can show people searching for loved ones), and a near-miss reunion scene near the end goes perhaps a little too far in the manipulative "Oh no, they're not going to see each other" mode, I quite liked the offering. From the harrowing special effects to the strong performances, "The Impossible" does the seemingly impossible in making a heartwarming story come out of an awful tragedy. It rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed November 12, 2012 / Posted December 21, 2012

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