Review: The Impossible

Poster for 2013 drama film The Impossible

Genre: Drama
Certificate: 12
UK Release Date: 1st January 2013
Runtime: 114 minutes
Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
Writer: Sergio G Sánchez
Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland
Synopsis: A British family holidaying in Thailand are swept apart by the chaos of the Boxing Day 2004 tsunami and must battle against adversity to reach each other before it’s too late.



Publicity for The Impossible has made a huge meal of the fact that it’s based on a true story. It has been marketed as an emotionally-driven movie with a feel-good ending. What they haven’t said in the marketing is that The Impossible is a harrowing experience and that Kleenex definitely does not produce enough tissues to sustain its audiences.

It’s a masterful example of how to not just tug at the audience’s heart-strings, but to completely tear them out of their chests. After the first ten minutes pass and the tsunami hits, The Impossible becomes a non-stop onslaught of hardcore emotion that ensures the eyes never fully dry out.

The tsunami scenes themselves are a feat of practical effects. Shot using minimal CGI and a huge water tank, they convey the chaos and destruction of the disaster in a hugely emotive way. Director Juan Antonio Bayona’s decision to do this practically adds a raw and visceral impact to the scenes and it is these moments of desperation that start the waterworks.

It is then that Ewan McGregor, Naomi Watts and youngster Tom Holland smash The Impossible out of the park with their trifecta of remarkable performances. Watts, incapacitated for most of the film’s runtime, uses immense subtlety and intense physicality to convey deep emotion. She is aided by Tom Holland who brings great maturity beyond his years to the role of a child, forced to grow up by the horrific events unfolding around him.

Then there’s McGregor. Whilst Watts does most of the emotional heavy-lifting in The Impossible, McGregor does his fair share. One moment in which he makes a phone call back home is amongst the most heart-wrenching parts of the entire movie and he does a very solid line in hysterically upset acting.

Much has been made of the controversial decision to change the family from their real life Spanish to English. However, any decision that allowed the casting of Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor is a good thing, especially considering that Watts was the personal choice of the real-life woman she was portraying. If they were the best actors up for the role, then it is them that deserved to play it and they did an incredibly good job.

On a personal level, The Impossible does a stunning job of covering a tragedy that opens wounds that are still raw from the recent tragedy. With shots from the film closely resembling newsreel footage and notable imagery from the event, it strikes deep and hard to get straight to the heart of the disaster.

It’s a masterpiece, but I can never watch it again.


Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.

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