Friday, 11 January 2013

The Impossible, dir. J.A. Bayona, wr. Sergio G. Sánchez, st. Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland

Much has been made of The Impossible's alleged whitewashing of indigenous victims (our protagonists are UK tourists) and focus of events. The fact that 150 UK citizens perished in the disaster compared to the 170,000 estimated Indonesian dead is neither here nor there, as this is a film whose primary role is (as insensitive as it may seem, but let's not kid ourselves) to entertain, and not necessarily to educate or inform. One may argue however, that lifting true stories, no matter how extraordinary, clean out of real life and packaging them in multiplex-friendly two-hour parcels of narrative, demands a certain level of tact and respect. The nature of history and commitment to its truths obliges you. The singular most compelling reason to label The Impossible entertainment in this context is Fernando Velazquez's almost constant and overbearing score that bullies the viewer into an emotion well before one might have arrived there naturally. It's the filmic equivalent of being severely harassed by your boss for tardiness before you have the chance to tell him you were violently mugged on the in way to work. Even the near-unbelievable sequence of events that see the Belon family divide, survive and ultimately triumph, surely highly implausible if they were fiction, may be forgiven due to the way the film explores how lives - and yes, to an extent Western middle-class complacency - can be suddenly and destructively forever changed in a heartbeat. To this end The Impossible contains some of the most convincingly horrific footage of the unfolding cataclysm I have ever seen committed to celluloid. The torrent of unrelenting water that freely ravages the landscape, blending trees, buildings, cars and people into a murky, muddy soup is truly shocking. In early scenes - some of the best in the film - Maria Belon (Watts) and her son Lucas (Holland) are swept into this watery hell and proceed to form a beautifully mutated reversal of roles as the son becomes his mother's guide and protector. Bayona's previous film - the acclaimed The Orphanage - dealt with similarly themes of families ripped apart and coming together again, but in the smaller budget and lesser-known stars, found an intimacy and longing sadly absent from this film. The Impossible then, is in many ways an unforgettable film in its depiction of nature's terrifying and deadly power; as a piece of drama, it's prescriptive and not a little overwrought.