The Impossible – Review

the-impossible06

The Impossible (2012) rating 6.0/10

Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona. Starring Naomi WattsEwan McGregorTom Holland.

The Impossible tells the true story of an American family (mother, father and three kids) caught up in the terrible Tsunami that in 2004 claimed the lives of an estimated 250000 people, residents and tourists alike, across 14 countries in South-East Asia: is was one of the largest natural disaster ever witnessed in human memory.

Of course the idea of using (or exploiting ssomebody may say) real-life horrors, natural (and non-natural) disasters and human tragedies to tell a story is at least as old as cinema itself. I could quote hundreds of movies that did it, some more successful than others… And if Titanic and its $1.8 billion at the box office on its release, is to be taken as proof, there is clearly an appetite for this kind of stuff. Whether it’s the holocaust, slavery, wars, shootings in schools, terrorist attacks: nothing seems to be sacred these days in Hollywood. No tragedy is off-limits anymore, not even a recent one like this. “United 93”  did it for the terrorist attack to America only 5 years after the event. Raise your hand if you thought it was a good idea at the time…. And yet, surprisingly, it ended up being a fairly balanced film, incredibly powerful and on the whole quite an accomplished success. I’m not sure whether anyone actually needed it, but hey… that’s the subject for another discussion.

To cut to the chase, I don’t necessarily argue against the actual idea of telling such stories. After all, isn’t that what every single war movie does? Sometimes it can work. It can raise awareness for a certain tragedy or even serve as a tribute or a simple educational tool, it can give us a different prospective to a known event or it can help us to remember such a tragedy, never forget what our ancestors had to go through. Even seemingly simplistic films like Titanic, once again, beyond the silly love story, can be seen as a look into social classes at the beginning of 1900s.

Sadly “The Impossible” not only does none of that, but also has absolutely nothing to say. It exploits the tragedy to tell us an unbalanced and slightly distorted view of what actually happened in Thailand in 2004 following an American family who just happen to survive against all the odds: you may ask yourself “what’s the point?”. Well, there isn’t one… or if there is it’s probably “life is about luck… and whether you have a medical insurance or not”. Never mind the  insane amount of people who died, most of which locals anyway (which in this film are largely ignored), never mind the ecological and economic impact of such tragedy: as long as the loving American family can reunite itself once again we are all happy. An absolute travesty, if you ask me. Simplistic, cheap, superficial, with an underlying uneasy complacency, and some troubling sentimentality throughout(including an over-played soundtrack, with twinkling piano and soaring strings).

And apparently the horrors of the real events were not enough for the film-makers so they even decided to add a series of manipulative clichés to enhance the drama (slow-motion – sound drops, and an incredibly misjudged sequence, which should really belong to a Black Edwards comedy, where father and son keep on missing each other among the multitude of people in a hospital).

It doesn’t matter whether the story is true of not, this is just not the way it should have been told.

It is a great shame because aside from that, the film technically is really impressive: the actual scene where the Tsunami hits the cost is truly terrifying and what I assume must be CGI is seamless (beating the one in Clint Eastwood’s dog of a film Hereafter) If you can somehow switch your brain off (a next-to-impossible task) and take this as just another  silly disaster movie, a sort of Towering Inferno, or Dante’s peak, there is no denying that the film is quite gripping and emotionally draining. I just wish it could have been a lot more than that.

I long for the day Naomi Watts will finally choose a film which will give her a well deserved Oscar… Sadly this is not such film. Ewan McGregor once again confirms himself as a great charismatic leading actor and his absorbing performance is nothing short of perfect. And finally the little Tom Holland, whose name is deservedly bantered about these days within several industry magazines and papers next to those 3 words “For Your Consideration”. He’s really very good, bringing to the role the fragility of a kid of that age, the strength of a teenager but also depth and emotions reminiscent of some of the best child actors in movies. I can’t wait to see him in something not just half decent.

Their impressive performances ultimately lift the film and give it enough depth and gravitas to avoid being a complete failure and just an insult to so many of the real victims.

6.0/10 

Beginners – Review

Beginners (2010) 

Director: Mike Mills Writer: Mike Mills Stars:  Ewan McGregorChristopher Plummer and Mélanie Laurent 

They may tell you that this is a comedy. You might have read about it on newspapers and magazines, you might have seen the poster looking more like one of those US rom-com than anything else… You’ve probably even looked at the trailer which sells it as an Indi-like comedy (and only hints to something else behind it), but be aware…

To a certain degree this is comedy in the most Shakespearian sense of the word (where even the most dramatic plays are considered comedic just because they end well). There are certainly some inspired funny moments here and there, however if you decide to go and watch “Beginners”, get ready to bring some tissues along because behind the laughs and the weird quirky tone, there’s a really heart-breaking story at its core.

The film essentially intercuts between two timelines: the first one follows the few last months of the charming, flamboyant and playful 75 years old Hal (an Oscar-worthy role by Christopher Plummer) who has recently come out as gay and most crucially who’s terminally ill with cancer. Don’t worry, I am not giving away anything: the film actually starts with his son, Oliver (Ewan McGregor in what’s probably his best performance) clearing up his deceased dad’s apartment.

The second timeline centres around his Oliver himself having to live with and accept the death of his father as well dealing with a new relationship with a free-spirited French actress, Anna (Melanie Laurent).

The film moves backwards and forwards between the two timelines and as it unfolds, it underlines the many contradictions of life: there’s light and darkness, music and silence, joy and sadness, laughs and tears (mainly tears as far as I am concerned: I was a total wreck by the end of it!), life and death.

It’s a film feels incredibly personal and yet it actually manages to be universal. After all it deals with the things we all very familiar with: parents, love, loneliness, death.

The beauty of it all is its attention to details: it’s a film made by simple moments which are so small and yet carry so much meaning. Like clearing a house after a person has died, going through their clothes, their personal properties, having to deal with the practicality of having to write a death certificate, but also, the clear realisation that life goes on for the living.

It is poignant and yet hopeful. It’s probably not for everyone, and it may have a few moments where it drags a little bit, but in the end it’s so disarmingly honest and beautifully observed and despite having a “talking dog” (and getting away with it) it feels incredibly truthful and real and I’d love to recommend it, but I’m aware that it’s a really tough watch and it’s a hard film to love. However it stayed with me long after the  credits finished rolling

7.5/10

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