The Impossible (Lo imposible)


Mother and child reunion.

Mother and child reunion.

(2012) True Life Drama (Summit) Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast, Maura Etura, Geraldine Chaplin, Sonke Mohring, Ploy Jindachote, Johan Sundberg, Jan Roland Sundberg, Nicola Harrison . Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona

The Indian Ocean tsunami of December 26, 2004 was an event that captured the attention of the entire world. In little more than an instant the coastlines of Southeast Asia came flooding inland, taking with them debris and lives. More than 300,000 people lost their lives in one of the deadliest natural catastrophes of all time. Many of them were vacationers enjoying the sunshine for the holidays.

Henry (McGregor) and his wife Maria (Watts) – a doctor who has given up practicing medicine temporarily to raise her children – have checked into a beautiful Thai resort on the ocean. Their three children – the eldest, Lucas (Holland) who in the manner of kids approaching puberty basically doesn’t want anything to do with his family and tunes them out whenever possible with a pair of earbud headphones, the middle child Thomas (Joslin) who has a love for the heavens, and the youngest Simon (Pendergast) – are enjoying the sunshine of the pool and beach and the joy of Christmas presents.

Henry works in Japan and is concerned that someone has been hired to do his job, which may make him redundant. The family is considering moving home to England but that is a discussion for another day. The day after Christmas while the family is poolside, a gigantic wall of water taller than the roof of their resort rushes at them without warning. Henry is with his two youngest sons in the pool; Lucas is on the deck. Maria is by the glass wall of the pool deck. All are swept away in the frothing brown deluge.

Maria is bounced about in the raging tide like a rag doll. Tree branches and shards of glass slice into her and add a red hue to the brown waters. She manages to resurface and as the tide sweeps her away she sees Lucas and manages, after a good deal of trouble, to reunite with her son. The two huddle together as they wait miserably for the floodwaters to subside.

In the aftermath, all is silent. The two make for a tall tree they see towering over the landscape which has been flattened, like a petulant child had brushed everything off of a table with a careless sweep of his arm. Lucas sees a flap of skin hanging off his mother’s leg; she is grievously injured. They hear a child crying and Lucas is not inclined to rescue anybody, wanting to get his mother whose strength is rapidly fading, to a place as safe as possible should another wave hit the shore. After some gentle persuasion from his mom, they rescue a little Swedish toddler named Daniel (Johan Sundberg) and the three sit in a tree, awaiting rescue.

It eventually comes but there are no cars or transport in the area so Maria is dragged across the mud flats with Lucas clearing out debris ahead of the rescuers. The two are eventually taken from the small village they are brought to initially to a completely overwhelmed hospital in Phuket where it soon becomes apparent that Maria’s injuries are much more severe than it first appeared. Lucas becomes her guardian angel, but after Maria sends him off to help reunite people who had lost each other in the chaos, he returns to find her gone and a new person in her bed. It appears he is alone in the world.

But he’s not. Henry survived the disaster as well, and also found Thomas and Simon and is camping with them in the ruins of their resort. However, it is clear that the resort is uninhabitable plus the thread of further tsunamis caused by aftershocks make it imperative that the survivors be evacuated to higher ground. Henry reluctantly agrees to send his boys into the mountains but he cannot bring himself to leave until he has some idea of the fates of his wife and eldest son. He is assisted by the sympathetic  Karl (Mohring) whose family was on the beach that day and whose survival is unlikely at best.

Scattered around Thailand, not knowing what has become of one another, this family must somehow find a way to get through the chaos and find each other, but will all of them survive? And how will they have changed if they do reunite?

The movie is based on the real experiences of a Spanish family which has  been incomprehensibly switched to an English one; I supposed the producers thought that the movie would play better in English-speaking territories if the nationality was changed. I guess we all do what we have to do.

Fortunately this led to some superb casting. Watts in particular stands out here (and she has the Oscar and Golden Globe nominations to prove it). She spends much of the movie flat on her back in a hospital bed and undergoes privations that a lot of other actresses might handle with less forthrightness. There was a scene early on when she and Holland are trudging towards that tree when he points out to her that her tank top strap is ripped; her breast is hanging out and it is in none too good shape. She ties up her top and without much fanfare continues; the way Watts handles it is without self-consciousness. She has other things more important than modesty on her mind. Maria’s character is in full-on maternal mode and Watts captures it perfectly.

Holland has to shoulder much of the acting load; as his mother’s injuries grow in gravity, Lucas must grow up quickly and become her protector and advocate, all the while grieving for his dad and brothers with whom he had a fractious relationship at best. We watch a child grow into a man before our very eyes and it is quite moving.

McGregor gives a solid performance but is given not nearly as much to work with as Watts. Most of the time he’s showing despair and searching for his family while yelling their names in stubborn desperation. He does have one scene where he’s calling home to let them know he and the two youngest are okay and he’s searching for Maria and Lucas…he’s using a borrowed phone and he completely breaks down, all the stress and fear and pain overwhelming him. He finally hangs up, not willing to waste what little battery life is left on the phone – and the phone’s owner extends the phone to him gently, telling him he can’t leave off that call like that. It’s a powerful scene and if only McGregor were given more like it he’d probably have an Oscar nomination as well. But basically from that point, Da Queen was misty-eyed for the rest of the movie.

A word about the tsunami sequence itself; it’s impressive. Done with a combination of practical and computer generated effects, it is as harrowing a scene as you’re likely to see. It is one thing to watch home video of the tsunami hitting a resort made by a cell phone; it is quite another to see it like this where you get not only a sense of the size of the wave but of its power.

Some critics have complained that all the victims in the film seem to be white which isn’t true; if you watch carefully in the hospital and refugee sequences you’ll see plenty of Thai faces – the film is focusing on a single family which does happen to be European but then again the filmmakers are also European. I think most thinking filmgoers realize that there were more Asian victims in the tsunami than European ones.

This is a very emotional movie that is going to make every mom who sees it a wreck and a whole lot of dads as well. The experience is an incredible one and all the more so because it is real. I do hope that when the DVD is released we’ll get to hear from the actual family (a photo of them is shown during the end credits) because quite frankly I’m interested to hear how realistically the film depicted what happened to them. Nonetheless this is a movie worth looking for; it’s not on a lot of theater screens sadly, although Watts’ nomination for Best Actress might generate a little more interest. It deserves it.

REASONS TO GO: Powerfully emotional and brutal in places. Great performances from Watts, McGregor and Holland. Tsunami scenes are amazing.

REASONS TO STAY: Harrowing in places. Unnecessarily Anglicized.

FAMILY VALUES:  The scene of the tsunami hitting the resort is extremely intense; there are also some graphic depictions of injuries incurred in the disaster. There are also several shots in which there is some nudity as people’s clothes were knocked literally off of their bodies in the deluge.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Many of the extras were survivors of the actual tsunami.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/12/13: Rotten Tomatoes: 80% positive reviews. Metacritic: 74/100. The reviews are strongly favorable.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Krakatoa, East of Java

ASTRONOMY LOVERS: Young Thomas has an interest in the stars and there is an interlude where he and the Old Woman (Chaplin) discuss the death of stars while watching the night sky.

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: The Woman

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Eye of the Hurricane


 

Eye of the Hurricane

Grant Collins' Popeye impression never fails to get a laugh.

(2012) Drama (EntertainmentOne) Melanie Lynskey, Brian Doyle-Murray, Nicola Peltz, Campbell Scott, Jose Zuniga, Gregory Cruz, Grant Collins, Wendi Motte, Joyce Guy, Colin Ford, Eddie Bowz, Andrew Wilson Williams, Ben Sabet, Christopher James Forrest, Julie Ann Dinneweth. Directed by Jesse Wolfe

 

What happens during a natural disaster is sometimes not nearly as devastating as what happens in its aftermath. Sometimes the worst part of picking up the pieces is realizing that the pieces will never be reassembled in quite the same way ever again.

A small town in Florida has been hit by a devastating hurricane and stands in ruins. Electricity and water are out and most of the residents live in a tent city. Amelia Kyte (Lynskey) is in a state of shock; her husband, who flies a hurricane hunter for the Air Force, hasn’t returned and she holds vigil at the local base (which itself was severely damaged in the storm) until she gets some news, which isn’t forthcoming. In fact, she isn’t even allowed on the base nor will anyone in charge talk to her about the fate of her husband, or whether he is alive or dead or even missing.

She is far too involved in her own grief to pay much attention to her children; 16-year-old Renee (Peltz) who is forced to fill out forms and watch out for her little brother, 9-year-old Homer (Collins) who lost his eye in the storm. Homer is sure that if they find the missing eye that it can be put back in his head no harm no foul. To this end he enlists Abby Nelson (Motte), his best friend and maybe the toughest girl in town.

A local fisherman, Bill Folsom (Scott), is trying to extract his boat out of the water where it is blocking the ramp, irking other fishermen who know that the ramp is needed for the crane they’ve hired to pull their own boats out of the water as well. Bill is sweet on Amelia and has been for a long time. He keeps watch on Homer as much as he can, but has a tendency to do and say the wrong thing – like telling Homer tales about the Seminole (Cruz), a local figure reputed to have magical powers. Eventually, Homer gets it into his head that the Seminole might be able to use his magic to help find Homer’s eye.

Bill is trying to work some magic of his own, spending nights and what’s left of his cash to repair Amelia’s house and making it livable again so that maybe he could move in there with her sometime down the line. In the meantime, Renee has fallen for a married relief worker (Zuniga) and is frustrated and fed off with her mom who is completely self-absorbed. By the time word finally comes through and Amelia re-joins the land of the living, it may well be too late to repair the rift that has grown between her and her daughter – or to save her son, whose own obsession has led him to attempt something incredibly dangerous.

I really wanted to like this movie; the premise is intriguing and there are some solid performers in the cast. Unfortunately, there are also a whole lot of logical lapses. For one thing, no military base – even one that’s compromised as this one was – is going to allow the wife of one of their own to sit outside their gates wondering if her husband is dead or alive. They would at least give her some information and if not, assign someone to help her family out. They wouldn’t just leave her hanging like that.

And FEMA be damned, the Red Cross wouldn’t have one or two case workers to handle a tent city like that. A place like that would be swarming with personnel and there’d be evidence of electrical workers trying to restore power. Here the town is left pretty much left forgotten and yet it’s possible to drive to Miami where there are lights, bars that are open and serving beer to minors. I’m not sure if the filmmakers knew the legal drinking age here is 21, but they depict beer being served to people clearly identified as 16 years old without being carded. No bar is going to risk their liquor license like that.

Those are just the few off the top of my head but you get the drift. Little things like that annoy me, I have to admit. What’s worse is that the juvenile actors cast in the parts of Abby and Homer don’t come off as being real kids. That might be because the parts weren’t written that way, but they act more like kids on a TV show rather than kids who have been through a major disaster and in Homer’s case, have been injured to the tune of a lost eye. While I can see Homer’s obsession with recovering that eye and of boredom and lack of supervision causing them to get into trouble, there are times that Homer just is too much like Bobby Hill in “King of the Hill;” a little bit too snarky. Same goes for Abby; she was acting like a kid out of a Tyler Perry movie.

The sad thing there’s really a movie here. Scott, Lynskey, Zuniga and Peltz all deliver solid performances and while Lynskey’s Amelia was annoying early on as you got to know the situation her motivations became pretty clear and suddenly she was a bit more sympathetic.

It’s really hard sometimes to critique efforts like this; for one thing, we’re not talking big budget Hollywood productions here and I know that the filmmakers want to tell the story the best way they can. Unfortunately, I can’t in all conscience say that I liked this movie and I can’t for the same reason recommend it without a whole lot of caveats.

REASONS TO GO: Scott, Lynskey, Peltz and Zuniga do well.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many lapses in logic. Juvenile actors too inconsistent.

FAMILY VALUES: There are a few bad words here and there and some implied sexuality.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film debuted on March 15 at the Omaha Film Festival.

CRITICAL MASS: Not available.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Trouble the Water

SWAMP BOAT LOVERS: There are several different types of boats regularly used in Florida swamps and the Everglades on display here, from rowboats to skiffs to power boats.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Girl Model