"The Impossible" (2012) from the impressive Spanish director J.A. Bayona ("The Orphanage") is a disaster movie. Not the Roland Emmerich or Michael Bay kind disaster movie, but a 'based-on-true-life' disaster movie set against the backdrop of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami that devastated large portions of coastal southern Asia and took more than 200,000 lives. Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter" touched slightly upon this subject, but this is the first major feature film to center on the events of December 26, 2004. If you can bear sentiment, the movie serves as intense reminder of how frail, fleeting and precious life is.
The narrative structure of "The Impossible" is fairly straightforward, which first introduces the principal characters -- Henry (Ewan McGregor), Maria (Naomi Watts) and their three sons, Lucas (Tom Holland), Simon (Oaklee Pendergast), and Thomas (Samuel Joslin). They are staying at a fancy resort in Thailand, a place close to the sea. When a tsunami with 98-foot-high waves hits shore all the guests, employees, and residents of the area are totally unprepared. Lucas, the elder son is separated from his family but miraculously makes contact with his mother, Maria who has been badly injured.
After an physically and emotionally difficult journey they arrive at a crowded hospital where doctors worry about Maria's badly damaged leg. Maria insists him not to drain all his energy on her but to see what he can do to help other survivors. Meanwhile, Henry and the two younger boys remain at the ruins of the resort until rescue workers arrive to take them out. Henry is set to search for Maria and Lucas, while he sends the two younger ones to a shelter.
"The Impossible" is a Spanish-made production but it has the design and work of Hollywood’s jauntiest studios. With a budget of $45 million and perfect as well as limited use of CGI, director Bayona accomplishes astonishing verisimilitude in recreating the tsunami and its immediate aftermath. Apart from the well shot disaster scenes, Bayona also sets out to explore the psycho-social dynamics of the family members. Separated and seriously injured, this is not just a remarkable reuniting story, it also reaffirms their unshakable faith in each other, as well as in the thousands of strangers who were also victims of the catastrophe. Bayona has somehow won a noteworthy challenge, namely, in creating and then maintaining the right tone in balancing real-life, suspenseful horror with the triumph of the human spirit, without exploiting the natural disaster and without excessively glorifying the courage and sacrifice of the family members in facing the disaster.