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The Impossible

I certainly have a heart, but I have a brain too. And whereas(usually)they tend to peacefully co-exist—there are times when they do battle with one another. This is one of those times. I considered recusing myself from reviewing “The Impossible” because I have long been keenly perceptive regarding the subject of racial sensitivity. Hey, I’m a fortysomething white guy that lives in an idyllic New Jersey suburb. But I come from the racially mixed urban landscape of Jersey City, New Jersey. I’ve seen both sides. And I have to say right up front that I was immediately offended when first viewing the trailer for “The Impossible” some months ago, because it appeared that it was going to be ridiculously “white-centric”. And though the horrendous 2004 Indian Ocean Boxing Day tsunami certainly killed and/or devastated a number of caucasian people, the vast majority of the estimated quarter of a MILLION souls dead were people of color—with Indonesia being especially hard hit(more than half of that number). But “The Impossible” is a true story. Yeah, right. We all know how that goes(see “Argo”). So, I googled a little. Turns out the family that is the basis for this motion picture is from Spain. And they look absolutely nothing like Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and their three adorable little moppets. Again, I get that. As unfortunate as it is, this type of motion picture has a much better chance of getting produced and distributed if it has a cast of blonde, blue-eyed movie stars. I may not like it, but it’s a reality. But just how much responsibility does director J. A. Bayona and the film’s producers and screenwriter have to at least portray some of the catastrophic effect this disaster had on the Asian community—in this case the country of Thailand? Apparently, they don’t feel they are required to present all that much. When a subplot device was introduced involving the rescue of a Swedish toddler, I was nearly apoplectic. Even if it was true, I failed to care at that point. Much of “The Impossible” was feeling like a cheat. But was it enough to cancel it out completely?  

Maria and Henry Bennet(Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor)take their three young sons to a Thailand resort for the Christmas holiday in 2004. They are a fortyish couple, and their boys are 13, 8 and 5. They are in the resort’s pool when the tsunami hits. We watch in horror as Maria is swept away by waters and is constantly battered by floating debris. When she manages to surface, she soon sees her oldest child Lucas(a very good Tom Holland). As they battle for endless minutes against the raging waters, they both somehow manage to survive until the wave finally calms. They even manage to rescue a little 5 year-old boy. Meanwhile, Henry is seen searching and crying around the flood ravaged resort’s hotel. We believe he is alone at first, but it turns out that he is with his two youngest children. Seems they saved themselves by hanging onto trees. Soon, Henry makes the gut-wrenching decision to send his boys with other survivors on a bus to higher ground, while Henry tries to find his missing wife and son. Maria and Lucas, with the help of some Thai villagers, wind up at a partially destroyed and wildly over-burdened hospital. Lucas seems okay, but Maria has some horrible injuries—including a deeply gashed leg. There are some complications before she can receive surgery, and we are not sure if she will be able to pull through. And Henry is faced with not only the monumental, and possibly useless, search for Lucas and Maria—but he may not be able to locate the younger boys either. However, and some readers may consider this sentence a spoiler—if you’ve watched the trailer for this film, it takes great care in tipping you off as to how just about everything turns out. Which also, is kind of a cheat.

Listen, I have an eight year-old boy and a five year-old boy. I’ve been on tropical vacations with my wife and sons, and I think it’s only natural to try to imagine the horror of actually being in that situation. That being said—I cried real tears during “The Impossible” more than once. How could I not? Like I said up front—I have a heart. But then my head starts trying to wrap itself around how all of this is being played out in the film. The manipulative set-ups and the gushy music score. I’m being worked over. I start thinking about 2011’s “The Help”, and how it was supposedly a story about African-American maids in the 1960’s U.S. South—but told through the eyes of a pretty college-age white girl. I thought about how Stanley Kubrick once commented on Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning “Schindler’s List”, and saying that the holocaust was about 6 million Jews who died—while the film focused on 600 who made it. And about a dozen other cinematic examples. Is there any accountability concerning the filmmakers use of the tsunami as a backdrop for European tourists having the vacation from hell, while tens of thousands of the local population perished? Did “The Impossible” owe us more than just passing reference to this unfathomable reality? Yeah, I think it owed us a bit more. But I am willing to compromise. I think that labeling “The Impossible” a great film is absolutely ridiculous(yes, I’m talking to you, Rex Reed). On the other hand, I think to ignore how effectively it maneuvers our core emotions is dishonest. Plus, it does have strong performances(including an Academy Award-nominated one from Ms. Watts), and is almost perfectly paced. It’s a split verdict for me, but if I fixate on it too long, I’m liable to lower the grade. So, I better wrap this up now.     Grade:  C+    

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