One of my big cinematic frustrations this time of year is that I don't live in New York or LA, but being a "cinephile" of sorts, I keep up on all the December new releases that sneak out in order to get in under the wire for Oscar consideration. Unlike in years past, say a decade ago, the indie or foreign films that I actually want to see are only in those two cities, where the critics are. San Francisco, one of the more literate and disposable income-heavy cities, totally gets the shaft - as does Seattle, Chicago, Boston, DC and so on - to say nothing of other places, where it's a holiday season toss-up between going to see "The Hobbit" or "This is 40". No thanks.
I had a tailor-made afternoon to go to the movies - family otherwise occupied, rain pouring down - so I did that best I could last weekend and went to see Juan Antonio Bayona's family-caught-in-a-tsunami-thriller "THE IMPOSSIBLE". All things considered, it was a pretty right-on choice. "Based on a true story", and certainly modeled on the horrific 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami that killed 250,000 people (!!), it tracks an English family who come to Thailand for a Christmas holiday vacation and get literally and figuratively swept away and apart by the tsunami. I'm sure you've heard the scenes of the family and everyone around them getting swallowed and sucked for miles by a wall of water are quite intense, and they certainly are. Yet to the film's credit, the panic and confusion and psychic pain continue the entire rest of the way, as the family tries to recover from wounds and reunite in the midst of absolute death, destruction and chaos.
I've had a low-grade adoration for Naomi Watts on many levels and for many years, and she's the glue that holds the film together. She's the mom, in case you were wondering, and she gets the worst of it: torn in multiple bodily places by the tsunami, and clinging to life for at least half the movie. She and her oldest son are separated from her husband, who just happens to be Ewan McGregor, and their young twin boys. I'd venture to guess that the film's pretty realistic in its portrayal of how people attempted to heal their own battered bodies and find the dead and injured in the days after this catastrophe, and the film definitely has a nice you-are-there perspective that kept me pretty wrapped up and tightly-wound for nearly two hours. Watts puts in a very strong performance as a mom trying to play both the role of the mother/protector and the victim/protected at the same time, and letting her injuries dictate which one she's able to actually accomplish.
The only criticism I read of "THE IMPOSSIBLE" before I saw it was that it focused on the ordeal of the white tourists, and not of the many dead and hurt Thai people around them. This is true to an extent, but it didn't bother me in the least. The film clearly centered its lens early on on one resort, one family in that resort, and far be it for me to know for sure, but I'll bet that there are a lot of wealthy white people in Thailand's resorts at Christmastime - and therefore a lot of who got hurt or killed on its beaches. (Dead and injured Thai people are in fact part of this film, by the way, as well as Thai doctors and nurses and Thai villagers who help everyone around them).
It's a little maudlin, sure, and when the family reunites and the strings soar, you'll either be dripping silent tears or doing your tough-guy/gal best not to. It may not be one of the big 2012 Oscar contenders, and I'm not arguing it should be, but it was an excellent use of $8 in rainy day matinee bucks and I'm glad I saw it on the jumbo screen.