The Spanish-produced film The Impossible, directed by Orphanage director J.A. Bayona, chronicles a family’s plight after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hit the southwestern coast of Thailand. With this film, Bayona offers an intimate portrait of one single family’s story of survival.

The Players:

  • Director: Juan Antonio Bayona
  • Screenwriters: Sergio G. Sanchez (screenplay), Maria Belon (story)
  • Cast: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland
  • Cinematography: Oscar Faura
  • Music: Fernando Velazquez

The Plot:

Maria (Watts), Henry (McGregor) and their three sons begin their Christmas vacation in Thailand, but on the morning of December 16th, 2004, as the family relaxes around the pool, the Indian Ocean tsunami hits their location. In the aftermath, the family tries to find each other and encounters loss and grief along the way.

The Good:

  • Performances: Watts plays the matriarch with lots of strength despite being in a very vulnerable position. After the tsunami hits, she ends up badly beaten but she doesn’t let her pain show in order to keep her kid (Holland) from worrying. Bayona shows her struggling to walk, and later climb a tree. All of these things play into Watts’ powerful and emotional performance. McGregor also pours his heart and soul into Henry. He puts on a brave face for his sons, even though he’s terrified to death. The performances from all three actors – Watts, McGregor and Holland – are emotional and powerful. It’s hard to imagine how one would react if suddenly our world would be turned upside down, but these actors manage to grasp and convey that idea.
  • Tsunami Sequences/Effects: Bayona does an impressive job with the Tsunami sequences. From the very beginning, he builds up the tension as the tsunami waves approach the resort and then right before the waves come crashing down, he cuts to black, blinding us from the disaster. Later we just see the devastation and chaos, and another sequence follows, equally impressive. 

The Bad:

  • Narrow Focus: Bayona decided to focus on one single family, and for the first 30 minutes of the film, he does a good job of keeping us invested in this one family. But as he exposes us to more people, both native and not, we get distracted by their loss and grief. Will they be okay? Will they find their loved ones? The film then begins to feel like an unfair portrayal of what happened, picking and choosing whose stories to tell and whose to ignore.
  • Repetitive: If you’ve seen the trailer, then you have a pretty good idea of where this film is going and what it’s about. The first 30 minutes of the film are great, filled with powerful scenes and captivating landscapes, but then it starts to get repetitive. Bayona chose to split the film, showing us Watts’ journey first, and Henry’s later on. The dramatic irony, if we can call it that, doesn’t work because by the time we switched to Henry’s view, we’ve lost a lot of interest. Towards the end, the film kind of turns into this wild goose chase, and that’s just silly stuff.


The Impossible is an ambitious film. It sets out to tell a true story about one family’s journey after a horrific event that changed their lives forever. Despite the emotional story, the solid acting and very cool effects, the film’s narrow focus doesn’t grasp the vast horror of this event. Especially when Maria and Henry’s family can just leave the devastated land whenever they wish to do so.

The Rating: 6.5/10

The Impossible opens in theaters Friday, December 21st. 

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Will you be seeing The Impossible this weekend?