There are a lot of things I don't understand about the movie industry and about people's taste in movies. Add that to things I don't understand about quantum mechanics, carpentry, surgery, shoe making, HTML, women, the history of undergarments, Socrates, Chinese cooking, composting, and, well, most things, and you are faced with an enormous, unexplored universe of information.
This, I believe, qualifies me as the film critic of the Piker Press.
It also lends credence to my statement that I don't know how they do the stuff they do in movies. In director Juan Antonio Bayona's film The Impossible, the audience is transported deep into the entrails of a Leviathan, but in this case, the Leviathan is not a mythical sea monster but the 2004 tsunami that came out of the sea to rip through Southeast Asian countries along the Indian Ocean. This is not, however, a sensational Hollywood disaster film that uses hyperbole and flash to manipulate the audience. The experience of the tsunami, as spectacularly as it is recreated, is very intimate, very personal, and is unsettlingly real.
Again unlike Hollywood disaster films, the disaster is not the star of this production. (Think here of Titanic type films where everything builds toward the climatic sinking of the ship.) In this movie, the tsunami is the stage on which the drama of a family is played out. Henry and Maria bring their three young sons to Thailand for a Christmas vacation, arriving just two days before the tsunami, and check into a beachfront hotel. When the tsunami hits, they are lounging around the hotel pool, and like everyone and everything about them are swept away and scattered in the water and debris. Maria and her eldest son Lucas are carried by the water in the same direction and struggle desperately to keep each in sight. Henry and the two younger boys find each other quickly after the initial surge of water and have managed to stay in the area of the now heavily damaged hotel. Reluctantly, Henry allows the boys to be taken to an emergency shelter while he stays behind to look for his wife and eldest son. Maria is badly injured, and while she and Lucas ultimately make it to a hospital, it is swamped not with tsunami waters but by thousands of injured people. The heart of this movie is the story, the true story of how the family members deal with the chaos in which they find themselves, and how they remarkably are reunited.
I liked this film. I don't know how they do these things, but I felt like I was there in Thailand when the tsunami hit. The long sequence of Maria and Lucas being swept along in the wave is excruciatingly evocative, and it is so well framed that while I was riveted on the drama of the actors, I couldn't help but be overwhelmed at the enormity of the action of the waters themselves surging across vast expanses of countryside. The acting was good. Naomi Watts (Maria) and Ewan McGregor (Henry) solidly anchor the cast, and young Tom Holland (Lucas) is really quite good.
Perhaps the best part of this film is the writing and directing. This could have been an easy story to ham up. It could have been easy to rely on scenes of muddy babies crying alone in the streets to manipulate the audience's emotions. It would have been easy to succumb to melodramatic scenes of sobbing and weeping. And while there was plenty enough of that, every sob was measured and earned, every emotion was real. Having avoided the cheap shot, the movie is emotionally moving on a much deeper and satisfying level.
On last thing I don't understand -- so far this movie has made diddly squat in this country. It has done well enough to make a profit, but that was off of the revenue from Spain, the director's homeland. It has brought in only a little more than six million dollars in the US, which means if you've gone to see it, you've pretty much had a private screening.
This is a good story, well told and well presented in film. It is well worth the admission price, and I think this is one that is best appreciated on the big screen, so if you get a chance, see it in the theater. But even if you have to wait to catch it on cable or DVD, put it on your list of must-see movies.