'The Impossible' review: Scary and real

'The Impossible'

'The Impossible' (December 18, 2012)

*** (out of four)

In movies, even the most universal truths aren't a given. Love can appear unconvincing; family members seem like they barely know each other.

In “The Impossible,” however, the simplest emotional necessities come through in full force. The situation’s a nightmare that many were unlucky enough to live; in fact, the film is based on the story of a Spanish family who was vacationing in Thailand during the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami, the deadliest on record. Naomi Watts plays Maria, who is stranded with her oldest son, Lucas (Tom Holland), after the tsunami—with no idea about the fate or location of her husband (Ewan McGregor) and other two sons. Maria’s right thigh's split open; Lucas is understandably shaken. Together they make it up a tree, surviving long enough for others to find them and add them to the already packed list of patients in a hospital surrounded by death of many different species.

The second feature collaboration between director J.A. Bayona (impressively adapting to a much larger scope) and writer Sergio G. Sanchez (the terrifying “The Orphanage”), “The Impossible” mostly sticks to an approach of unadorned human drama—though a handful of strings-enhanced, dramatized moments hinder a story that needs no added emotional heft. Watts is wonderful; some of the supporting performances waver. What's never in doubt is the strength of the bond between this family or the horror at any age of having loved ones torn away and being left alone in the world.

Yes, the movie should have paid more attention to the people who actually live in Thailand. Yet far more effectively than, say, the three-hour nonsense of “Cloud Atlas,” “The Impossible” levels the playing field of fundamental human need and behavior, often revolving around luck that we have no control over whatsoever.

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