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Short Takes: The Impossible

By Chris Chang

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The Impossible Juan Antonio Bayona Naomi Watts Ewan McGregor

Amazing but true stories, alas, seldom make for amazing films. In Juan Antonio Bayona’s eco-disaster flick, the 2004 tsunami that devastated Thailand sets the stage. It strikes not once but twice: first, near the beginning, to get things rolling, and then close to the end, as seen in a quasi-redemptive flashback. Between these massive CGI bookends a family struggles to reunite itself. Henry (Ewan McGregor), with his two youngest children, stays mobile, searching the various cobbled-together emergency-relief outposts. Maria (Naomi Watts), severely injured and tended to by oldest son Lucas (Tom Holland), winds up in a hospital bed where she will spend the majority of the film withering away into a practically catatonic state. Thanks to superior F/X makeup, this may be the worst that the lovely Watts has ever looked on screen.

Trauma is magnified in the eyes of Lucas: the near mutilation of Mom, along with all the Third World hospital horror he witnesses, makes for a hard education. Per the demands of the narrative, Watts’s talents are largely wasted (although that doesn’t preclude an Oscar nod). McGregor isn’t given too many dramatic options either, beyond continuous fretting, so it’s up to the 16-year-old Holland to hold things together and supply psychological dimension. He’s up to the task, but the burden of a film with such weighty ambitions would have perhaps been better supported on a more experienced pair of shoulders.

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