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The Impossible

White people’s problems

A British family’s 2004 Christmas on a Thai beach paradise is spoiled when a massive tsunami devastates Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.
    Maria (Naomi Watts: J. Edgar) and her eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland: The Secret World of Arrietty) are dragged by the wave through a battered countryside. Stranded in the middle of a foreign country, Lucas must figure out how to get his mother help before she succumbs to injuries.
    Maria’s husband Henry (Ewan McGregor: Haywire) and the couple’s two small children surface close to their hotel. Henry is desperate to find Lucas and Maria, leaving the small boys with a squad of survivors and searching the Thai countryside night and day. Both Henry and Maria cling to the hope that — say it with me — The Impossible will happen and they’ll be reunited in the midst of this horror.
    Will the family ever find each other? Can they all survive this ordeal? Where are all the Thai people?
    The Impossible is a moving, beautifully acted story of one family’s ordeal. It’s also mildly disturbing how few native people feature in the film. In fact, director Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage) seems to think the worst part of the tsunami disaster is that it ruined a lot of vacations and killed so many tourists. We hear stories of European (actually, just white European) vacationers, who lost family and friends. We watch them band together to search for their loved ones. We see the severity of their injuries.
    The suffering of the Thai people is background action. They sit in hovels, lie on hospitals floors and generally stay out of focus behind the white faces that fill the screen.
    Based on a true and very compelling story, film stumbles on scope.
    It’s a shame, because The Impossible conveys the horror of the tsunami. Murky walls of water uproot trees, toss cars and fracture bodies. Bayona has a knack for disaster cinematography, conveying the vastness of the surging water and just how helpless people were to stop it.
    The Impossible also features two fantastic performances. Watts, as a terrified and gravely wounded mother, is a wonder to watch as she fights to stay alive for her son. As teenager Lucas, Holland has the unenviable job of switching from sullen teen to petrified child. Only his mother’s need keeps him from breaking down.
    But instead of being a story about the power of the human spirit and families, the movie seems to send that message that life works out if you’re a rich, attractive white person.

Fair Disaster Movie • PG-13 • 114 mins.