THE IMPOSSIBLE (J.A. Bayona, 2012)
Disaster films are always expected to be tearjerkers, but THE IMPOSSIBLE ups the ante of the genre by wasting no time and going straight into the devastating 2004 tsunami in Thailand right away. By then, the story deals quickly with the aftermath of nature's wrath, in particular the journey of one family to survive and find each other despite the impossibility of their situation.
Director J.A Bayona carefully tells his tale of hope and humanity against a backdrop of chaos, and fleshes out a compelling human drama from the personal struggles of his main characters. Naomi Watts, in an Oscar-worthy performance as Maria, the mother capably handles fear and bravery with chilling effect on the viewer. Ewan McGregor who plays Henry, the father is also stirring. But what steals the movie are the three children, especially the eldest one Lucas (Tom Holland) who have to deal with the tragedy in all childlike unpreparedness, physically and mentally.
At various points, Lucas feels awkward and tormented seeing her mother suffer, embarrassed even. This makes the mother-son relationship more interesting. Maria educates her eldest about selflessness twice in the film, one in the muddied waters and one inside the hospital, and the results are cinematic moments of endless tears of joy.
The 2004 tsunami in Thailand was a very infamous incident in human history (perhaps overshadowed by the more recent one in Japan, but that's beside the point) and many lives were lost, yet THE IMPOSSIBLE focusing its energy on one particular family's ordeal is painstakingly beautiful. We are held captive emotionally, and we get to experience the joy of being alive by learning how it feels to be so close to death.