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The Impossible (8/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 114 minutes.

OK for children.

Just about everyone has seen video of the tsunami that hit Thailand in 2004 from the Indian Ocean. This is, in the words of the prologue to the film, a "true story," not "based on" a true story. Told by director Juan Antonio Bayona from a script by Sergio G Sanchez which, in turn, was from a story by Maria Belon, the actual protagonist upon which the film is based, this is the story of a Spanish family, the Alvarez Belons. They have been changed into an English family, Henry (Ewan McGregor) and Maria (Naomi Watts) with three sons Lucas (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin), and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast). Geraldine Chaplin joins the cast near the end as an old woman who sits on a hill talking with Lucas.

Adding to the verisimilitude of the film, it was shot at the real locations where the ordeal occurred, even employing extras who had been through the tsunami. The Orchid Resort is the actual resort at which the Belons were vacationing when the tsunami hit.

The filming of the tsunami looks like the real thing, but it took a year to shoot the 10 minute scene of the tsunami striking. Special effects master Félix Bergés says that digital water was not used because it wasn't realistic, so they used real water, requiring the crew to move over 35,000 gallons of water on a daily basis. The sequence itself, from beginning to end, lasted about eight minutes and required over 100 shots.

Watts bore the brunt of the flood sequence. The scenes where the family is swept away were shot in a tank in Spain, took about a month and a half, and Bergés says it was "a nightmare." Watts commented, "that was definitely the most challenging part of the movie. I'm not Tom Holland's age, it's not normal for me to be thrown around like that. It was a hard thing to do for a month. I remember (director) J.A. telling me the lines to say and I was like, I can't speak, I've got a mouthful of water." So it was apparently as frightening to shoot as it is to watch. It's a very impressive piece of filmmaking. One cannot tell the difference between what these filmmakers created for the screen and the real thing.

The acting is exceptional, especially by Watts, McGregor, and Holland. Something's wrong if they all don't get nominations and/or awards. In the end, this is a touching monument to familial love, and all the more rewarding to know that it is true.

December 18, 2012