Premise: A British family vacationing in Thailand are separated from each other during the horrific tsunami that struck the area in 2004, and try to survive the elements so they can reunite. Based on a true story.
Behind-the-Scenes: Has drawn some controversy in some circles for focusing on white tourists, rather than the native citizens who were affected by the tsunami.
The Good: Naomi Watts is fantastic as the mother struggling to protect her eldest son and reach safety despite being seriously injured. There is not a second she's on screen where you don't completely believe what she's doing. I worried for her health at times - she's that convincing. Watts is my pick for Best Actress this year. Tom Holland is also impressive as the elder son, who is forced to take on more responsibility than he may be ready for. It's an incredible performance from a child actor in a very demanding role. The staging of the tsunami is realistic and truly scary, especially the underwater shots of characters getting tossed around. Director J.A. Bayona uses his horror credentials (his previous film was The Orphanage, which I highly recommend you see if you haven't already) to depict the destruction and its aftermath with an immediacy and visual impact not seen on screen before. The first 45 minutes are riveting and intense. The movie as a whole is emotionally draining. It really puts you through the wringer.
The Bad: It grows more and more emotionally manipulative as it goes along. The Impossible may be based on a true story, but some of the story shortcuts (characters walk in and out of the frame, just missing each other by a second) make it seem awfully fake and overly convenient. I wish the rest of the movie was as strong as those first 45 minutes. When it strays from Watts' character to focus on Ewan McGregor and the other two sons, the movie loses some of its power - though that's certainly no fault of McGregor; it's more of a script problem at that point.
Should You See It?: Yes. Bayona's striking visuals paired with a career-best performance from Watts help this one rise above some of the more formulaic turns in its second half.
Rating: ***1/2 out of 5 stars.