Sunday, January 6, 2013
In Theaters: THE IMPOSSIBLE (2012)
(Spain - 2012)
Directed by J.A. Bayona. Written by Sergio G. Sanchez. Cast: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast, Geraldine Chaplin, Sonke Mohring, Ploy Jindachote, Johan Sundberg, Marta Etura. (PG-13, 113 mins)
There's little doubt that the creative forces behind THE IMPOSSIBLE approached the project with noble intentions. There's also little doubt the film, at times a tense, emotional, and grueling drama centered on the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, leaves a bit of a bad aftertaste when it's over. It gets a lot of things right: the tsunami itself is one of 2012's most harrowing sequences, very convincingly pulled off by the filmmakers and visual effects team, and the acting is, for the most part, excellent. These elements manage to carry the film for a while, but at some point, it stops working and the contrivances and the maudlin audience manipulation take over. There's much about THE IMPOSSIBLE that is very good, but just as much of it is problematic for a variety of reasons.
THE ORPHANAGE), THE IMPOSSIBLE had me grumbling to myself and rolling my eyes barely a minute into the proceedings when we see the Bennetts on the plane to Khao Lak, and a loose page that falls to the floor reveals the book Maria is reading is Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (FORESHADOWING!). And in the immediate aftermath of the horrific tsunami (this sequence is a stunner, without question), something starts nagging at you. Where is everybody? There were thousands of people here two minutes ago, but now it's just Maria and Lucas. Maybe it's a directorial technique to show that they are the story's focus, but it just looks and feels odd. There's an occasional corpse and they do eventually find a little European boy on his own (Johan Sundberg), but the first Thai people we see are some raggedy-looking folks who drag Maria and Lucas to safety. Now, there's been some grumbling about this film choosing to focus on the effects of the tsunami on white European vacationers, but I don't necessarily have a problem with that in and of itself. Bayona and Sanchez chose to tell the story of one Spanish family's experiences in this event, and that's fine (though I wonder why the Spanish producers didn't just cast Spanish actors and make this a Spanish-language film; certainly someone as accomplished as, say, ORPHANAGE star Belen Rueda, arguably Spain's top actress, could've handled the Maria role), but the narrowed focus starts to feel embarrassingly tone-deaf as the film progresses. The only Thai people we see are the ones dropping everything to be of service to the wealthy white vacationers. Of course the Thai people in the devastated area graciously helped any survivors they found, but in choosing to focus on this particular family, the filmmakers don't even try to pay the slightest lip service to a population uprooted by the same catastrophic tragedy.