There’s something unsavoury about making an uplifting epic about the tsunamis of 2004 – especially one focusing exclusively on the plight of vacationing Westerners who faced the devastation. That about sums up The Impossible, a sentimental slog that encourages us to celebrate the survival of European tourists while turning a blind eye to the deaths of thousands of others. The film tells the true story of a wealthy Spanish family, visiting Thailand for the holidays, that finds its coastal R & R violently cut short by an enormous crashing wave. Badly injured in the storm, Maria (Naomi Watts) and her young son Lucas (Tom Holland) set out for higher ground. But what of Henry (Ewan McGregor), the husband and father of the clan, and Lucas’s two younger brothers?
Director Juan Antonio Bayona, who made the high-minded Spanish horror flick The Orphanage, lends the tsunami sequence a harrowing intensity. After that, however, there’s not much else he does but train his jittery lens on mud-and-tear-streaked faces—though, notably, only those of the leads’ fellow white survivors. (Is this Thai community populated entirely by crying blond moppets and strapping Spaniards?) Watts takes on the burden of her ordeal with masochistic conviction, bellowing to the heavens and wearing each bruise and gaping leg wound like a badge of honor. Talk about a disaster movie. A A Dowd