Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Movies

'The Impossible' revisits terror of Indonesian tsunami

By SEAN DALY

Times Staff Writer

There is a solemn docudrama preface to The Impossible — a Hollywood take on the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that swept away 230,000 lives — a thudding reminder that what we are about to see is a TRUE STORY. And yet, never does this overwritten, tonally uneven Oscar wannabe ever feel like the real story, or even a respectful fraction thereof.

Instead, by focusing on a gorgeous European family vacationing at an ill-fated Thailand resort — an incredibly lucky brood of five led by Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts — it attempts to attach manipulative cineplex uplift and thrills onto one of history's deadliest natural disasters. It awkwardly longs to be the Poseidon Adventure and Beasts of the Southern Wild all at once.

The filmmakers don't mean to be crass, and every now and then they pan wide to show, in harsh unflinching detail, the multicultural chaos and colorblind horror of what the churning sea wrought on Southeast Asia. But director J.A. Bayona ultimately doesn't want to make a small film, or even a depressingly honest one, which is what the true body count better deserved.

Instead, he wants it all — oohs and ahhs, tears and cheers — starting with the titanic waves that arrive the day after Christmas and demolish a beachside resort where our mom, dad and three boys are splashing unaware in the pool. It feels wrong admiring the aquatic armageddon we see onscreen, but the special effects team dazzles with relentless authenticity.

Indeed, for a 30-minute span, The Impossible is riveting, as we watch Watts' Marie and her son, Lucas, (16-year-old Tom Holland) try to stay alive amid the water and the mud and the sheer bleak awfulness of it all. With the rest of his family nowhere to be found, Lucas must grow up fast, as his mother, in the film's most gruesome scene, is fileted by tree branches, then spends great gory swaths of the movie vomiting blood in a wasp-infested hospital. (And how is this PG-13?)

One of the base problems with The Impossible — and part of the reason it often plays false — is that Bayona summons the calamity so soon, he has little time to introduce his family. So lead characters are quickly bestowed with one-note threads that are eventually tied up with swelling strings. Lucas craves a Coke at the start — then eventually, in odd means, gets a Coke. Another kid just wants to see the stars — and then, seemingly abandoned at film's end, gets to gaze at them.

But the most egregious echo? People keep randomly repeating the line "Close your eyes and think of something nice" — even an Asian surgeon at the movie's climax. This blatant grab for audience sobs is reminiscent of the eye-rolling tendencies of Mssrs. Spielberg and Cameron, who also know something about sprucing up historical tragedies for the rabid popcorn masses.

It's a mess, but not a total one. McGregor and Watts scream and cough and bleed a lot, but give them credit for meeting the physical demands of the story. And the most enlightening performance is put in by Holland, who plays Lucas as a stunned, but efficient, young hero. He saves loved ones and, to some degree, this movie, especially when his subtle response to a rare moment of good news amid the horror is not a smile or a laugh but confusion and jealousy. This, he reasons, is not a time to celebrate.

Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow him at @seandalypoplife on Twitter.

Comments
Star Wars: The Last Jedi has everything The Force Awakens was missing

Star Wars: The Last Jedi has everything The Force Awakens was missing

When The Force Awakens landed two years ago, it was everything Star Wars fans wanted yet not entirely what we needed. It was a rousing tribute missing its own vision, introducing new characters and crises hinting at old ones. Star Wars: The Last Jed...
Updated: 11 hours ago
13 new movies you have to see over the holiday season

13 new movies you have to see over the holiday season

Hollywood has enough movies left to get everyone through the holidays plus any New Year’s hangover. Many are aiming for awards glory, a few are just here for the party. The really serious contenders won’t open nationwide until early 2018...
Published: 12/12/17
Golden Globe-nominated movies and when to see them in Tampa Bay

Golden Globe-nominated movies and when to see them in Tampa Bay

Guillermo Del Toro’s romantic creature feature The Shape of Water soaked up seven Golden Globes nominations Monday, kicking off another marathon awards season. The Shape of Water is nominated for best dramatic motion picture alongside Christop...
Updated: 11 hours ago
‘Shape of Water,’ ‘Big Little Lies’ lead Golden Globes

‘Shape of Water,’ ‘Big Little Lies’ lead Golden Globes

Guillermo del Toro’s Cold War-era fairytale "The Shape of Water" swam away with a leading seven nominations from the Golden Globes, while the HBO drama "Big Little Lies" led television nominees with six nods. In what’s being viewed as a wide-open Osc...
Published: 12/11/17
Five offbeat movie choices to get you away from the multiplex this week

Five offbeat movie choices to get you away from the multiplex this week

Hollywood is backloading December, waiting for Star Wars: The Last Jedi to bring moviegoers back to multiplexes. After no major releases last week, only James Franco’s The Disaster Artist is making any new impression at box offices this weekend. (Cli...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Olaf is being let go: Olaf short is being dropped from Disney-Pixar’s ‘Coco’

Olaf is being let go: Olaf short is being dropped from Disney-Pixar’s ‘Coco’

Winter is still weeks away but everyone’s favorite snowman is already melting from view.In a cruel twist on Frozen’s showstopper, Olaf is being let go.Olaf’s Frozen Adventure, the 21-minute animated "short" preceding Disney-Pixar’s Coco in theaters w...
Published: 12/05/17
‘The Disaster Artist’ takes us inside ‘The Room’ as it notoriously happened

‘The Disaster Artist’ takes us inside ‘The Room’ as it notoriously happened

James Franco found a kooky, kindred spirit in Tommy Wiseau, The Disaster Artist whose 2003 cine-trocity The Room is hailed as one of the worst movies ever.Like Wiseau, Franco can be accused of stretching his talent way too far. Unlike Wiseau, Franco ...
Published: 12/04/17
That time Shia LaBeouf tried to join a Tampa Bay Undeground Film Festival ...

That time Shia LaBeouf tried to join a Tampa Bay Undeground Film Festival ...

For a few bewildering days, R. Presley Stephens thought his Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival would welcome a notorious celebrity.The fourth annual shoestring cinema showcase runs Thursday through Sunday at Britton 8 Theater, 3938 S Dale Mabry High...
Updated: 11 hours ago
What's in theaters for Thanksgiving: 'Coco,' 'Last Flag Flying,' 'The Man Who Invented Christmas'

What's in theaters for Thanksgiving: 'Coco,' 'Last Flag Flying,' 'The Man Who Invented Christmas'

NOW IN THEATERS: COCO Disney-Pixar’s animated dramedy Coco (PG) is inspired by Mexico’s annual Dia de los Muertos, the "day of the dead" when departed ancestors are celebrated. Good for diversity, although the movie isn’t as good ...
Updated one month ago
If you’re going to see ‘A Christmas Carol’ redo, make it ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’

If you’re going to see ‘A Christmas Carol’ redo, make it ‘The Man Who Invented Christmas’

The last thing this world needs is another rendition of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, likely the most remade, reimagined and ripped off literary property ever. At the same time, the world would be poorer without seeing Ebenezer Scrooge i...
Updated one month ago