When I first saw the trailer for ‘The Impossible’ as I walked into a movie theater, I stopped mid-aisle and watched the whole preview because the on-screen action mixed with Damien Rice’s cover of U2’s “One” was a perfect blend of emotional cinema. Without shame, I’ll admit that my eyes welled up with tears from the trailer alone. Sadly, the actual film never rises to that level.
I’m pretty torn when it comes to my opinion of ‘The Impossible’. The idea behind the film is honest, genuine and moving – but the way that it’s realized doesn’t always show that. Instead, it bounces from powerful and emotional to flawed, manipulative and amateurish. Let me explain.
Based on the true story of a family who chose to hold their 2004 Christmas vacation at a beach resort on the coast of Thailand, you start the movie already aware that a tsunami is about to cause massive devastation. What you don’t know is whether and how the characters will survive (unless you’ve seen the far-too-revealing trailer). The depiction of the catastrophic wave is harrowing. The images and sounds are so horrific that they made me not want to watch, but I couldn’t close my eyes out of the fear that if I did, our fighting-for-survival characters wouldn’t make it through.
When the wave hits, the narrative completely abandons three of the five family members. For nearly an hour, we follow the mother (Naomi Watts) and the oldest son. We see them dragged miles inland, clinging to whatever they can to stay afloat. Once they end up on somewhat firm ground, we watch them scour the wasteland for a safe place to reside should another wave come. After no time, we see them make their way to one of the many overcrowded makeshift hospitals – and this is where the majority of the film is set. Highly-wounded Mom and Son hang tight in a hospital.
The trailer for ‘The Impossible’ gives away the entire story, even the last scene, but that didn’t seem like a problem beforehand because the film appeared to be one where the journey would be worthwhile. Unfortunately, it’s not. If you’ve seen the trailer, then you already know that the dad (Ewan McGregor) and the two younger kids survive. About an hour in, we finally cut to them. We don’t see what they went through when the wave hit or how they managed to stay together and to stay alive; we simply see them surviving after the tsunami.
‘The Impossible’ drags on and on. It has several great moments that could have served as perfect endings, but they’re ruined for the sole purpose of adding unnecessary, unbelievable and contrived moments of tension and drama – as if the entire situation wasn’t dramatic enough. For example, one gimmick is used a few different times: two people look for one another. We see one walking in a lobby, and just when the other is coming down the stairs, the other walks out of sight around a corner. One of these scenes in particular has this happen over and over again.
I wanted to love ‘The Impossible’. After my experience with the trailer, I expected to. Sadly, the movie left me sorely disappointed. The first thirty minutes are truly moving, but the other three-quarters of the film rarely jump back up to that high level. For me, this is just another missed opportunity by Summit Entertainment.