Many movies are introduced with the preface “based on a true story” and we choose to believe that what has been presented to us is, in fact, the truth. Of course the facts have been enhanced to work with the conventions of film and to entertain. Very few films that are based on a true story are as devastating and exhausting as The Impossible. At the same time, few films have you question if this “true story” was deserving of being told. Just because it’s true doesn’t mean it’s going to make a good movie.
The Impossible is a fine movie. It’s well made and acted and I would be lying if I didn’t admit that it completely ruined me during some scenes. You have to be made of stone if you made it through this movie without shedding a single tear. This is coming from the person who rarely cries through films, but had to practically be carried out of 50/50 and Marley & Me (for another time…). So yes, The Impossible is impossibly sad and all that, but there were moments where the film felt very heavy-handed.
A friend who had seen the movie before me had told me that while she enjoyed it, she wondered if everything that was in the movie actually happened and that it felt a little much. Yes the film is fictional but is based on a true story so of course moments are enhanced, but there are moments in The Impossible that feel impossible.
Before I discuss what I found impossible about The Impossible (I can do this all day) I’ll discuss what I did enjoy. I thought the moments that depicted the actual experience of the tsunami were impeccably well done and I was exhausted and terrified just watching the entire ordeal. When the tsunami hits at the beginning you’re left numb in your seat; it’s captivating, devastating and incredibly hard to watch at times. I also found the scene near the end when Watts’ character was about to be put under for surgery and she relived the tsunami to be incredibly gripping. The acting was fine if unspectacular. I was completely underwhelmed by Watts’ performance that left me wanting more/wishing it had been another actor in her role. On the other hand, Ewan was solid and I wish he were the one receiving all the recognition.
A film like this comes with a heavy hand, naturally. It’s going to be overbearing, it’s going to be sappy, and it’s going to be exhausting, of course. It’s expected. I expected it. I expected to be carried out of the theatre weeping. But when those moments feel forced, I can’t help but feel some distance between the film and the truth. There’s a scene near the end of the film where the entire family is now in the same area, the same hospital in fact, and they’re desperate to find one another. The characters go up and down the hospital, search the outside of the hospital and everywhere else in hopes of finding one another. They look so hard for one another that they JUST miss each other. They end up finding each other and it’s your typical “DAD! SON!” moment and, of course I lost myself but it’s this moment and other moments like this that exist in the film that had me questioning the authenticity of the film. Again, I understand that this is a film and it’s essentially a fictional re-telling of a non-fiction event, but what happens when the moments are so exaggerated they become too fictional to believe?
As I mentioned at the beginning of this piece was that not all true stories should be made into a movie. At the end of The Impossible I thought this family’s story was devastating, of course, but I didn’t think it was completely exceptional. I may sound like an asshole for calling the story of a family who survived a tsunami unexceptional, but that’s how it/I felt. This could be the fault of the filmmakers or the actors or a number of reasons, or maybe their story, even enhanced by the conventions of film, wasn’t that captivating. Did we need The Impossible? Was the families story, as awful and incredible as it is, a story that was made for film? I don’t think it was.