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It takes a special amount of self-sabotage to completely undercut the natural emotions we as human beings have in witnessing an unspeakable tragedy, and yet director J.A.Bayona manages to do just that with the eye-rolling forced drama of THE IMPOSSIBLE, which is based on the true story of a family who managed to survive intact during the 2004 tsunami that ravaged Thailand. The premise of a family of five being separated during this horrendous ordeal and fighting their way back to each other should be enough to pull at your heart strings as you endure their struggle for survival alongside them. You’re left to suffer through their worst fears with them, only imagining what it would feel like or what you would do to be in their shoes in a similar situation, making their eventual reunion all the more emotional and celebratory. The idea that these people somehow overcome every obstacle that the universe puts in their way just to be rejoined should be enough. But Bayona and his screenwriter Sergio G. Sanchez get so heavy-handed in their attempts to build any type of tension in the story by having all five members in the same place at the same time, yet somehow missing each other, as if something off a mediocre primetime sitcom that THE IMPOSSIBLE frankly becomes embarrassing to watch. Does such a story really need such tricks in order to drum up your worst fears as an audience member that these people may never get connected again, and that they’ll just keep looking unsuccessfully for the rest of the family? Nope, and it makes the impossible possible by turning this terrible turn of events that actually happened into a bit of a joke. Well done.

Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play Maria and Henry, a fairly well-off married couple, who decide to take their three sons to the Orchard Beach Resort in Thailand for a nice Christmas family vacation. Only those wishes quickly go bad with a pretty intense and amazing tsunami sequence that has Watts swept away with her oldest son Lucas (Tom Holland) while McGregor and the other two boys are nowhere to be found in the nearby general area. Bayona is able to capture the scope of the devastation left behind by the tsunami, while putting you right into the raging waters with Watts and Holland as they struggle for oxygen and to find anything to hold onto that might keep them in one place for a bit rather than further downstream into more unknown dangers. It’s in these moments that Bayona gives off a bit of hope towards THE IMPOSSIBLE that he will not soften the blow of what’s to come, that he will give you a true account of the horrors that followed once this tsunami hit the shore.

But that isn’t always to be, with Bayona opting for a more positive tone to THE IMPOSSIBLE as Lucas roams around the medical camp where his mom is, trying to do the good deeds of locating loves ones for complete and total strangers while Watts lay in tremendously bad condition, awaiting surgery that will hopefully save her badly injured leg but also her life. With death potentially on Maria’s doorstep, it seems awfully hokey and far from genuine to have Lucas trying to be helpful as a young adolescent after everything he’s already seen when the one piece of family he knows is alive deteriorating quickly. It’s a cheap way to try to make you feel better about what’s going on, especially since we really shouldn’t be feeling optimistic or happy when you take into account the loss that everyone else around this family is feeling. At some point in time, in assuming this family will get back together, they’re going to get to leave and go back home, as the rest of Thailand deals with the aftermath of this natural disaster. Therefore, the real celebration should be saved for that eventual moment. Peppering the film with these small victories only serves to show how awesome this family is at being good people, taking away from the dire situation that existed on the ground in Thailand back in 2004. I’m not even sure why others who are going through their own personal ordeals in locating their own loved ones continue sacrificing things for this particular family. What is it that’s so special about Ewan McGregor that someone would give up your cell phone with very limited battery, so he can contact someone back in London and have a way too long conversation with them, while others don’t have the benefit of doing the same? Were there sob stories just not as compelling in order to warrant communication with their families, letting them know they were okay? I guess not.

THE IMPOSSIBLE treats this family as if they’re some special breed, and they’re really not. If they were the inspiring humanitarians Bayona depicts them as for much of the film, then they’d be sticking around to help others in Thailand recover once they were all together again, not hightailing it back to the comforts of their own home the first chance they got. And yes, I get that Watts had just gone through a medical procedure, but if they were all running off to help those in need when it was inconvenient for them, why would that change at all when it was a little more convenient to lend some aid?

This film just tries too hard to manipulate emotions out of you. There is no opportunity for you possibly feel something on your own, as THE IMPOSSIBLE puts forth a ridiculous amount of effort to try to force you to feel something. It’s too bad that those attempts are so transparent you can see them coming a mile away, and the only emotions THE IMPOSSIBLE is then able to generate within you are ones of disgust and contempt. Had the film just been able to follow a more natural and simpler story path about these people who, with plenty of luck and maybe the grace of God, find themselves together again when they probably shouldn’t, it might have been fine. Instead it opts for trickery to try to bring about some tears, leaving behind a film beyond rescue.


-Billy Donnelly

"The Infamous Billy The Kidd"

Follow me on Twitter.

Readers Talkback
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  • Dec. 19, 2012, 12:43 p.m. CST


    by theskypatrol

    As over 200,000 brown people die all around them... ...five white people rise above the tide in a fight for survival!

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 12:45 p.m. CST


    by theskypatrol

    Are you reading this talkback J.A.Bayona? I hope so, we are all LOLLING at you.

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 12:45 p.m. CST


    by theskypatrol

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 12:52 p.m. CST


    by theskypatrol

    SPEWBACCA, I don't get too many nice compliments on here, but I really appreciate it! :D

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 12:59 p.m. CST

    Prince of Darkness!!

    by DocOpticus

    I like that little animation in the corner! That movie rules!!

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 1:02 p.m. CST


    by The Infamous Billy The Kidd

    Please... don't make me watch that one again. I've avoided rewatching it in full again for quite some time.

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 1:02 p.m. CST

    ok I'm sure not going to see this now

    by Rupee88

    The Kidd is one of the more objective writers on here. He doesn't like every subpar movie like some of you, so you don't like him but I appreciate that he has reasonably high standards for his cinema.

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 1:21 p.m. CST

    81% Rotten Tomatoes from 40 reviews

    by Col. Tigh-Fighter

    Disgusting and with contempt? Blimey, Kidd. So you cannot imagine that strangers would share low battery phones, or a kid with a very ill mother wouldnt help anyone else? Is this how you read this film? This isnt a critique of this film, this is a critique of your character.

  • I thought it was a harbinger of the Mayan apocalypse, but thankfully all is well now. :O)

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 1:36 p.m. CST

    er Zero Dark Thirty.

    by AlienFanatic

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 1:37 p.m. CST

    @col. tigh-fighter Don't judge Oscar-bait on its Tomatometer

    by Humie Bubbie

    The cell phone moment is one where the owner of the phone says he NEEDS to save the battery for himself, but then suddenly gives it up to let Ewan talk to his father-in-law. It's a moment manufactured to elevate the emotion of this family's circumstances beyond that of all the people around them, even though Ewan's family is having much better successes. It comes across as false.

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 1:42 p.m. CST

    col. tigh-fighter

    by peter_dickinson

    What the shit does 81% on RT have to do with anything? People don't stumble all over themselves sometimes to praise terrible films? They do. Are you so weak minded that you need RT to tell you what to watch? Consider your character... CRITIQUED

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 1:54 p.m. CST


    by Simpsonian

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 1:59 p.m. CST

    Hey, white people have problems, too, you know.

    by Andrew

    Like when the cable goes out or the cell phone doesn't work for a second. "I hate this phone, because it was weird for a second. It's trying to connect to space, can you give it a minute?" -Louis CK

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 2:12 p.m. CST

    need more the dark star trek rises plz

    by CT1

    must figure out who khan is

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 3:56 p.m. CST

    Reese Witherspoon disagrees with you

    by Magregus

    Have to say Reese's letter to Naomi has peaked my interest in seeing this.

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 4:16 p.m. CST

    Yawn. Ok then, lets play

    by Col. Tigh-Fighter Kidds main grip is that it is unreal or emotionally bankrupt, because the characters dont act true under these circumstances. I would argue that people do act well under tragedy (on the whole), as showed by recent, well publisized photos of New Yorkers offering free phone charging to people without. I would say that to think depictions of such displays of humanity in a crisis, as disgusting or worthy of contempt, is nothing more than a window into the mind/psyche/character of the person writing it. My experience of individual humans ,as a whole, does not hold that out, regardless of how fucked up is it currently looking. Regardless of what a thousand post apocalypse films have told you, humans are social creatures, and tend towards community and helpfulness, if their own individual lives or families are not in immediate jeapordy. Being European, I actually knew two people who were there when it happened. One in Phi-Phi Thailand, who was scuba diving, and was underwater when it hit, and thought it was just a crazy riptide until he surfaced. The other would have been stood on a floating pontoon getting married if it had hit an hour later in Sri Lanka. Their personal experience of that time are of incredible human compassion from everyone, regardless of nationality or colour. To call it unrealistic, and to dismiss this film because its depictions of such acts, perhaps un-characteristic of the every day human, is short-sighted, and frankly shows a poor understanding of your fellow human beings. Try as I might, I cannot shake this weeks More Guns Would Have Saved The Children attitude, with Kidds view of Humans Sharing Important Things When They Could Be Selfish Instead Is Wrong. I know its not all of you, but damn, this attitude of yours comes out all over the place.

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 4:38 p.m. CST

    White people surviving is so beautiful!!!!

    by Pau

    I don't get it. thousands on non-white people died during the tsunami, many people lost their entire family there. ant the only story worth telling is that of a wealthy white family that survived? good for them but, seriously? can't we as audience relate to a real tragedy if it happens to someone form a different cultural backgorund or race?

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 4:42 p.m. CST

    by the way...

    by Pau

    ... the movie sucks, it's like they try so hard to make you cry for two hours, the only thing they don't try is having a dog dying while saving someone (white, of course). it's like Oprah, but worst

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 4:59 p.m. CST

    pau_supertramp. It wasnt always that way

    by Col. Tigh-Fighter

    Check out this brilliant BBC/HBO tv film from a few years ago. The main couple. front and centre through out, are a black couple. The others are glorified cameos. This is Chiwel and Sohpies story.

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 5:06 p.m. CST

    This would have been better if Eli Roth made it.

    by Fries Against

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 5:17 p.m. CST

    based on a true story

    by Bass Ackwards

    So its not like they ignored all the real life stories and just made one up about white people to insert into the tragedy. They found a true story of a Spanish family (I'm sure they searched long and hard for one about white people though), then rewrote it to feature white people instead.

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 5:29 p.m. CST

    The kidds gotta eat..

    by Jones Jonez

    .. So he spams the site with shite

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 9:52 p.m. CST

    movie starring brown people wont get financed

    by Hugh Gustavus

    it has to be about white people unfortunately

  • Dec. 19, 2012, 11:10 p.m. CST



  • Dec. 19, 2012, 11:40 p.m. CST

    @prez baltar thats been old for about a month now

    by Hugh Gustavus

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 12:38 a.m. CST

    @col. tigh-fighter And that's not what happens in the film

    by Humie Bubbie

    I'm glad people were compassionate in real life. That's great. But we're talking about this film, in which mainly WHITE PEOPLE are empathetic and helpful to SPECIFICALLY Ewan MacGregor. In the scene there are a group of people WHO ALL HAVE REASON TO CALL HOME. Only Ewan gets to because he cries. It's an idiotic scene.

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 4:24 a.m. CST

    Thanks for the spoiler, you cunt

    by BorisHumphrey

    I actually had no idea that the whole family survives the film until you just told me in the first sentence they come through intact. The trailers show two adults and a kid as the leads, but I was waiting for the movie to see if the whole family survived. Didn't Harry fire you?! He should have.

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 4:42 a.m. CST

    @bass ackwards: SPANIARDS ARE WHITE, FFS!!

    by Bilbo

    Ok, let me clarify this for you and all the ignorant dumbfucks that think Spain is a south american country, located somewhere between Mexico and Puerto Rico. Spain is an European country, and 95% of the population is WHITE. BTW, The Impossible was promoted to death here in Spain, and I must say it's a horrible movie. An absolute trainwreck. I'm with the Kidd on this one.

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 5:06 a.m. CST

    Ok, Spaniards are caucasian

    by Bass Ackwards

    Yes, I realize I am a dumbshit. That point made and recognized, here's a pic of the actual (and very good looking) Spanish family: It still stands that they DID rewrite the flick from this Spanish family, to a decidedly more caucasian McGregor and Watts (and yes, I'm reaching a bit here to try and save some face, throw me bone!)

  • Dec. 20, 2012, 9:35 a.m. CST

    So it's the Patch Adams of tsunami movies.

    by Pat