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The Impossible: DVD Review

Rating: M
Released by Sony Home Entertainment

There are some events which are always going to feel too raw when you see them on the big or small screen.

The Boxing Day 2004 tsunami of Thailand is, still, perhaps one of them.

In this film, a regular family, Maria (Oscar nominated Naomi Watts) and husband Henry (McGregor), along with their three sons are heading to Thailand to spend Christmas there, amid some financial worries which are on the horizon. However, when they're upgraded to a villa on the coastline, it seems as if the holiday is a perfect tonic set in an idyllic location, with Christmas with the family playing all together by the pool.

But that's when the devastating tsunami hits, violently separating them from each other and their paradise; Maria with her eldest and Henry with the two other boys are torn asunder...

And so, a desperate fight for survival begins.

It's hard to watch The Impossible without a tide of emotion sweeping over you, swallowing you up in a heap of discomfort and horror as the story unfolds. In fact, The Impossible was not a film I was relishing in many ways. Some events in history seem too raw still to explore on the silver screen, no matter how much time has passed. Certainly, a natural event which claimed the lives of some 230 thousand people, was not one which I wanted to see given the "Hollywood treatment", and particularly because it chooses to concentrate on a western family.

However, while not perfect, you couldn't be further away from the truth. Directed and pulled together by a Spanish team, The Impossible takes the true story of a Spanish family and spins it through the machine (perhaps a little unnecessarily - there's no reason why these guys have to be relocated) and emerges with something primal that taps into all of our fears; separation, loss, anxiety, grief and fear itself.

And it's because of the sensitivity of how it's handled that it really stirs something so deep within. 10 minutes into the film and the tsunami strikes. But this is not a disaster which is catalogued from multi-angles and with slow-mo shots of devastation. In fact, it's utterly horrific as the wave and associated cacophony of sound comes hurtling towards you on the screen. It's brutal, battering and utterly numbing, replete as it is with the terrifying sounds of the ocean superimposed on your eardrums as the tumult grows.

The Impossible, initially, focuses on Maria and Lucas (an unbelievably good and breakout turn from newcomer Tom Holland). Bayona shows shots of Maria being pulled under, tossed around and struck by all manner of objects as the water hits - and all through, all Naomi Watts does is channel the fear that any parent has over what's happened to their child.

Watts has been nominated for an Oscar for The Impossible - and while she's pretty much bloodied, bruised and bed-ridden throughout the majority of the film, she's commanding in every scene she's in, mixing in raw emotion, power and hope through the truly horrific scenario Maria went through. I guarantee you plenty of her scenes will have you shifting uncomfortably in your chair and squirming as the extent of her injuries are revealed in quick cutaways here and there. (Which is another thing director Bayona gets right -the choice not to dwell or over-dramatise the situation)

Likewise, McGregor brings dignity and heart to a husband, hoping against all hope for some form of survival.  There's a class to McGregor's turn and both command an association and heartbreak you immediately identify with in what's, at its heart, the (relatively) feel-good tale of survival against the odds. A scene, where he breaks down making a phone call, is like an arrow to the heart and you'd be a hard bastard to not feel anything at that point. However, where The Impossible stumbles slightly is in its depiction of life around those fighting for survival, as well as its inexplicable reason to mess with who was part of the story, by choosing European over Spanish - decisions which cast an inexorable pall over this international tragedy.

The picture of locals is nothing other than sketchy even as the story is told just as it no doubt happened. Granted, that may have been how it was in the reality of the aftermath, but the film feels questionable when examined under those moments, truth or otherwise. Likewise, an ending with empty seats on a plane feels awkward and uncomfortable, given the scale of what's occurred - though that could be naivety on this reviewer's behalf. It certainly hangs jarringly at the end. Similarly, the decision to cast Hollywood actors and move the family away from Spanish heritage could be a tactic to ensure more people see the film (and is no reflection on Watts, McGregor or Holland) - but it's one which jars, given a title board at the end which depicts the family.

All in all, The Impossible is, at its heart, a film about family, love and the universal bonds we all share as a human race. It's not a film to enjoy and in fact, in parts, it's more one which you endure as it rumbles on toward its pay-off, with moments of frenzied predictability and occasionally manipulative score.

That said though, it's breath-taking and will see you go through the gamut of emotions as the lights go down and the haunting images begin to flood toward you with one emotional sucker punch after another. But I guarantee you, that you'll not leave that cinema without swearing to always ensure you do your utmost for your loved ones - no matter what.

Extras: Audio commentary, casting the film, deleted scenes and realising the film

Rating: 8/10