"The Impossible," a film based on the true story of a family's effort to survive after the Indian Ocean tsunami hit their hotel on Boxing Day 2004, generates the deep emotions needed to reach out and put a death grip on your heart.
Stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor, who portray the parents, have the acting credentials to make this powerful drama. Both rise to the challenge of the emotionally and physically draining roles admirably.
But it's the work of a relative newcomer -- 16-year-old Tom Holland as the oldest of the family's three children -- that is the most memorable. Holland's work reflects an ability that is far beyond what his scant acting credits would suggest. Director Juan Antonio Bayona gets a performance out of the young actor that reflects the perfect tipping point of a boy becoming a man, and that's where the heart of the film lies.
In some ways, this is a terrifying action film. After the waters begin to recede, Lucas (Holland) and his mother, Maria (Watts), have been separated from the rest of their family. Not knowing whether the others are alive, mother and son begin the painful journey to find help. Because Maria has life-threatening injuries, it's up to Lucas to find the strength to save himself and his mother. The pair battle ragging waters, fatigue and the dangerous natural elements left behind by the massive wave.
Bayona keeps turning the focus back to the family and that is what proves so captivating. This is a remarkable accomplishment considering how the family is thrown apart, with much of the tale told in parallel story lines. When all of the pieces come together, the collision is an emotional tidal wave.
If this film hadn't been based on a true story, it would seem impossible. There are some events that seem outlandish, but the only changes Bayona made to the story -- other than not making the family Spanish -- is the condensing of some of the timelines for dramatic effect. Even if the timelines had played out longer, there's enough power in the story that there wouldn't have been a dull moment.
"The Impossible" is a powerful story of courage, determination, family and love. It's made all that much stronger by standout performances from Holland and Watts. Both should not be forgotten when the Oscar nominations are handed out.
"The Impossible," rated PG-13 for intense disaster sequence, brief nudity. Stars Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland. Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona. Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes. Grade: A | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, email@example.com or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.