(Published in The Sunday Guardian, on January 6, 2013, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/the-pursuit-of-hope)
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts, Tom Holland and others
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Rating: 3.5 stars
It’s tricky to recast a real event on celluloid. And trickier to keep the audience hooked, when people know – or think they know – what they’re going to watch. The Impossible claims to tell the “true story” of a family of tourists caught in the tsunami of 2004, and I expected a mash-up of the visuals we’ve seen hundreds of times over on television. I’d gone in without a notion of the look of the film, and the scene left me stunned.
The filmmakers skirt the problem of old-story-new-cast by narrowing their focus to a single family of tourists. Those of us who live in the countries that were hit by the tsunami can’t quite relate to the things they do, or the way they think. But those of us who’ve seen a reunion between people who thought they’d lost each other forever, those of us who’ve known the fear of never seeing a loved one again, do find ourselves drawn into the lives of these characters.
It’s family drama, and even though we’re told right away that this is headed for a happy ending, there’s a sense of unease all through. There are, after all, grades of happiness. If you have three children, and find two, do you feel blessed or wretched? When you’ve suffered deeply, do you seek out your fellows-in-distress to offer solace, to commiserate, to reach out and help, or to gain brownie points with karma?
Though the authenticity of the setting, and the way in which the tsunami is shown, are magnificent achievements of CG, the film makes tremendous demands on its actors. Ewan McGregor excels, especially while delivering the line that has the most universal appeal – “You know when I was most afraid? When I came up.” Because what fear can be greater than that of having lost everyone you care about? Except perhaps the fear that you may have to choose between two of them. Naomi Watts carries the burden of looking beautiful while looking miserable. She’s had plenty of training in that department, of course, and I’m guessing this will get her an Academy Award nomination. The most impressive actor, though, is young Tom Holland, who acts so well with his eyes that his lines seem redundant.
The downside to the film is that the theme is all too familiar – gritty determination to survive, when the odds are stacked against you. The dialogue does get clichéd at times, and there’s a tad too much of the so-much-beauty-and-yet-such-
The Verdict: You could call it formulaic when you leave the cinema, but the film does affect you for as long as you’re in your seat.