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The Impossible (2012)

tomatometer

81

Average Rating: 7.3/10
Reviews Counted: 183
Fresh: 148 | Rotten: 35

The screenplay isn't quite as powerful as the direction or the acting, but with such an astonishing real-life story at its center, The Impossible is never less than compelling.

74

Average Rating: 7.3/10
Critic Reviews: 46
Fresh: 34 | Rotten: 12

The screenplay isn't quite as powerful as the direction or the acting, but with such an astonishing real-life story at its center, The Impossible is never less than compelling.

audience

85

liked it
Average Rating: 4/5
User Ratings: 45,817

My Rating

Movie Info

Maria, Henry and their three sons begin their winter vacation in Thailand, looking forward to a few days in tropical paradise. But on the morning of December 26th, as the family relaxes around the pool after their Christmas festivities the night before, a terrifying roar rises up from the center of the earth. As Maria freezes in fear, a huge wall of black water races across the hotel grounds toward her.

PG-13,

Drama, Action & Adventure

Sergio G. Sánchez

Apr 23, 2013

$19.0M

Lionsgate Films - Official Site External Icon

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All Critics (183) | Top Critics (46) | Fresh (148) | Rotten (35) | DVD (2)

Alas, the movie tells a rather commonplace story.

January 28, 2013 Full Review Source: New Yorker
New Yorker
Top Critic IconTop Critic

The tsunami sequence is amazing, right up there with the one Clint Eastwood staged in Hereafter.

January 18, 2013 Full Review Source: Christian Science Monitor
Christian Science Monitor
Top Critic IconTop Critic

This is an unforgettable tribute to the determination of a very special family.

January 17, 2013 Full Review Source: Richard Roeper.com
Richard Roeper.com
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Naomi Watts gives one of her finest, most physically commanding turns.

January 4, 2013 Full Review Source: Denver Post
Denver Post
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Although it's ostensibly based on true events, The Impossible is not so much an inspiring tale of survival as it is an action flick.

January 4, 2013 Full Review Source: New York Magazine/Vulture
New York Magazine/Vulture
Top Critic IconTop Critic

While it may have been changed for the screen, this story of a family's ordeal is one from which any parent - any person, really - can't turn away.

January 4, 2013 Full Review Source: Miami Herald
Miami Herald
Top Critic IconTop Critic

What's meant to be a triumphant true story about succeeding under impossible odds ends up feeling more like a Lifetime TV movie.

February 20, 2014 Full Review Source: Movie Mezzanine
Movie Mezzanine

Their story may not be typical, but the family represents the resilience, compassion, and optimism of the whole human race.

July 13, 2013 Full Review Source: EricDSnider.com
EricDSnider.com

An emotionally-captivating and well-filmed true tale.

June 30, 2013 Full Review Source: Big Hollywood
Big Hollywood

A harrowing tale of perseverance and the search for safety amidst horrid destruction.

June 18, 2013 Full Review Source: Cinema Sight
Cinema Sight

As in a horror film, it doesn't matter anymore who these people are - only how they react.

May 22, 2013 Full Review Source: Seven Days
Seven Days

Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona exploits an international tragedy to tell a syrupy story about a wealthy white family dealing with adversity while completely ignoring the thousands of others who suffered as much or worse.

May 13, 2013 Full Review Source: The Patriot Ledger
The Patriot Ledger

Juan Antonio Bayona's The Impossible is an emotional tale of hope and survival, shot with an unafraid eye for disaster and tragedy.

May 7, 2013 Full Review Source: We Got This Covered
We Got This Covered

... a terrific horror movie, one that genuinely grips and shocks its audience and forces empathy with the would-be victims.

April 27, 2013 Full Review Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Inexcusable is a better word to describe the fact this amazing film was not given a Best Picture Oscar nomination.

April 23, 2013 Full Review Source: Spectrum (St. George, Utah)
Spectrum (St. George, Utah)

A tale that largely tells itself... with a little essential help from Hollywood's best special effects guys, that is.

April 17, 2013 Full Review Source: Film Racket
Film Racket

...come for the drama, just be ready to leave your nagging questions outside the theater.

March 18, 2013 Full Review Source: Movies.com
Movies.com

Technically impeccable, The Impossible gives the brutal caprice of nature its due, never romanticizing it or demonizing it.

March 13, 2013 Full Review Source: eFilmCritic.com
eFilmCritic.com

The true stand-out performance comes from 16-year-old Holland, whose cinematic debut is nothing short of extraordinary.

March 2, 2013 Full Review Source: Tulsa World
Tulsa World

The aim appears to be audience immersion, as if The Impossible really wants to almost drown you along with its stars - albeit in your own tears.

February 21, 2013 Full Review Source: The Standard
The Standard

There's nothing much to this fact-based film, storywise...It's in the sheer resilience of the characters that the film finds its drive.

February 15, 2013 Full Review Source: 3AW

Perhaps the biggest problem is its labelling as a 'Disaster Movie', as this is in fact intended as a study of the power - and the stubbornness - of the human spirit.

February 4, 2013 Full Review Source: Rip It Up

The Impossible doesn't turn a blind eye to the physical and emotional devastation, but the comparatively uncomplicated path it follows to arrive at a reassuring conclusion minimizes the impact.

February 4, 2013 Full Review Source: Reel Times: Reflections on Cinema
Reel Times: Reflections on Cinema

If you're familiar with the true story on which 'The Impossible' is based, you'll know a little about the finale. In case you don't, I'm not going to spoil this real-life disaster movie about the effects of the 2004 Pacific tsunami on a family of five.

February 3, 2013 Full Review Source: Quad City Times (Davenport, IA)
Quad City Times (Davenport, IA)

Unlike a lot of movies that have the "based on a true story" tagline, 'The Impossible' doesn't have to do much to remind us that its harrowing tale is genuine

February 2, 2013 Full Review Source: KC Active
KC Active

Director Juan Antonio Bayona spins the focus in on a single family caught up in the disaster, personalising the horror and bringing it home in unashamedly melodramatic fashion on its very own tidal wave of emotion.

February 2, 2013 Full Review Source: Eye for Film
Eye for Film

Audience Reviews for The Impossible

I have mixed feelings regarding The Impossible. My initial fears were that it would be gratuitous, thankfully this wasn't the case. The people and the situation were handled well and in good taste. However, as a film I found it quite frustrating. Director Juan Antonio Bayona used cheap tricks often used in horror films to prolong the tension, there is a level of mistrust felt by keeping information from the viewer which effected my overall enjoyment. When the ending can only go one of two ways, it is important to find new ways of approaching the conclusion and Bayone fails to do this. The child actors are also miscast. Tom Holland is famous for playing Billy Elliot on the stage and unfortunately his performance suffers from being a little too theatrical in its delivery. The other two kids follow suit and take away much of the believability of the overall story. The film was lifted for me thanks to the short but wonderful performance by Geraldine Chaplin.
March 6, 2014
SirPant

Super Reviewer

I was perhaps not very emotionally attached to the characters in this one, but it is undeniable that the performances are brilliant all around.
January 13, 2014
Raajay

Super Reviewer

"The Impossible" is a film that has a moment every watcher awaits from the moment the screen credits begin to roll - the tsunami. These "moment" films have a major obstacle to clear as the expectation for that moments gives the film the pressure to live up to that "moment".

But thanks to those high expectations films that are able to live up to the promise transcend. Some examples are "Jaws" where everyone in the audience is on the edge of their seats waiting to see that shark and when it does appear, boy does it meet expectations. And then the film itself continues to build on that momentum and before you realize it you are experiencing a special kind of magic.

When it's done poorly - say like 2004's "The Day After Tomorrow", it's a disaster. This film marketed world destruction and the special effects delivered but the film itself was tedious and idiotic.

When the tsunami arrives in "The Impossible" - it is terrifying. Just like advertised the moment that is the nucleus to the film is visually stunning but also a horrifying thing to witness. Juan Antonio Bayona does an incredible job at not just stopping at the huge wave that overcomes the resort but the unknown dangers it continued to unleash on our protagonists.

Thanks to strong performances by Naomi Watts and the incredible Tom Holland, "The Impossible" comes close to being a home run, but the moment that action shifts to Ewan McGregor's side of the story it deflates. The script in its attempts to depict moments that occurred over a long period of time into a compact 2 hours becomes hard to swallow. Coincidences abound - one moment in the hospital (will avoid divulging spoiler) is particularly Hollywood.

For about 3/4 of its length, "The Impossible" is a hell of a film but it ultimately begins to falter. Luckily for us the promise the movie made of exposing you to the horrors of the tsunami and surviving it is fulfilled. Too bad the human element didn't equal that promise.
August 5, 2013
The Gandiman
Tony Gandía

Super Reviewer

If there's one phrase that leads film fans to roll their eyes, it's "based on a true story". The phrase has become a byword for filmmakers' embellishment of events, manipulating or corrupting real-life accounts for the sake of generic convention. We're all familiar with the complaints about movie logic, Hollywood's tendency to romanticise or dumb down, and the on-going debate about how far cinema should go in accurately depicting human interactions.

With all this in mind, you might consider giving The Impossible a very wide berth. Not only is it "based on a true story", but it deals with natural disasters - a sensitive subject at the best of times. The Boxing Day tsunami still feels relatively recent, and there are any number of traps into which a director could fall in attempting to address it. But while it does still raise all these familiar questions, The Impossible is still a very good film, delivering more than its share of emotional punch.

One of the challenges of doing any kind of big set-piece lies in balancing the many different kinds of effects. Since Total Recall and Terminator 2 kick-started the CG revolution, there has been a growing trend towards CG over organic effects, both as an internal economy and to avoid putting actors and stunt-people in needless danger. But effects are only as good as the people directing them, and in this kind of story, you can't afford to have water that looks like it escaped from Die Another Day.

Fortunately, The Impossible is in good hands in this regard. Juan Antonio Bayona learnt his craft under the patronage of Guillermo del Toro, who produced Bayona's brilliant debut The Orphanage. Both directors understand what different kinds of effects can achieve, and how important it is to physicalize a character or threat wherever possible. While there is a fair amount of CGI involved, the vast majority of the tsunami scenes were filmed using real water, with the actors being thrown around in the same kind of tidal tanks that Ang Lee employed in Life of Pi.

It's not just the big-scale effects that impress, however. Equally good are the prosthetics and make-up, which cause us to refocus our attention on the characters and conspire to make the whole thing feel horribly real. For a 12 certificate, the film is incredibly brutal, with the only punches pulled being in the relatively fast editing whenever blood is spilled. Certainly you'll struggle not to recoil in horror at the sight of Naomi Watts' badly-damaged leg.

This leads us onto the second big success of The Impossible, namely getting us invested in the characters. As before, it's very easy to roll your eyes and pigeonhole the characters according to the familiar ciphers and conventions of stories about the triumph of the human spirit. But once again Bayona confounds us, assisted in this regard by The Orphanage screenwriter Sergio G. Sánchez. While there are issues with the narrative itself, the central characters are well-drawn and feel naturalistic in both their actions and their reactions to what is happening.

If nothing else, The Impossible confirms Bayona as a great director of child actors. He has a gift of getting great performances from very young talents, which is magnified by the skill he has at showing this world from a child's point of view. The film is at its best when we see all the devastation and emotional anguish in terms of the children caught up in it, whether it's Simon and Thomas quarrelling on the bus, or Lucas looking after his mother and wandering around the hospital with the list of names.

Like The Orphanage before it, The Impossible centres round parents and children searching for each other. In both cases the adults take up a lot of the screen time but are not the driving force - Naomi Watts has as little control as Belén Rueda over the fate of her child or the environment in which she finds herself. Bayona's touch is such that it lends the production an innocence which amplifies the drama and lessens the impression that we are being manipulated.

The performances in The Impossible cement Bayona's efforts and are often the key to elevating the story above convention. Tom Holland is outstanding as Lucas; like all the best child or teenage actors, he is wise beyond his years but avoids coming across as overly mannered. His reactions are naturalistic and believable, and he handles the darker material very capably. Naomi Watts continues to put herself through the mill as an actress, turning out another gripping, no-holes-barred performance. For once Ewan McGregor is a little flat, being generally convincing but not managing to hold his own in his sections of the story.

As a character piece, The Impossible is a well-crafted film that deserves plaudits for the way in which its story has been staged, both technically and narratively. But upon closer scrutiny, there are a couple of narrative shortcomings which prevent the film from ascertaining greatness. Ultimately its emotional depth is more than enough to see us through, and while we're watching the film these shortcomings don't interfere too greatly. Instead they are niggling little questions which emerge in the aftermath, and which take just a little bit of the shine off what is otherwise a very fine effort.

The story of the film is relatively simple but well-told in terms of its character arcs and development. The script, however, isn't always strong on dialogue, with the endless shouting of names drifting a little close to Titanic and a few occasions where supporting characters monologue about their place in the universe. There are also some big melodramatic contrivances, such as the manner of the family's reunion or the resolution of Daniel's subplot. If these events did happen exact as shown, they are clumsily conveyed; if they didn't, they have no real business in being there.

The much bigger criticism, which seems to have dogged the film, is that of alleged "whitewashing". There are, in fact, two separate accusations. The first concerns the nationality of the family, which are changed from Spanish to British (at least as far as accents are concerned) - the argument being that this was done to appeal to American audiences who might not read subtitles (so the stereotype goes). The second concerns the Thai presence in the film, with the attention focussing on the plight of Western tourists and not the pain and devastation of Thai nationals, who did not often have access to the support or resources enjoyed by the main characters.

It is certainly true that The Impossible focusses on privileged white people, but it also doesn't make any massive attempt to say that their experience is typical. It is possible for an extraordinary story to convey universal themes, and vice versa. Because of this, the Thai characters are marginalised, and it is fair to assume that a film made from their viewpoint would have been more brutal still. You could even argue that the film has the problem as Shame, depicting something truly horrific while ultimately feeling a little too choreographed to truly win us over.

Ultimately, however, The Impossible has such a strong emotional pull that we are invested in the characters regardless of their race or status. These criticisms emerge during the moments of narrative contrivance or slack scripting, but for the most part the film is not dogged by these problems. Bayona's storytelling is efficient and he balances the two sides of the family reasonably well. It may not be the deepest disaster film ever, but it is one of the most emotionally weighty.

The Impossible is a really good film whose myriad successes ultimately overshadow its shortcomings. It tackles a very difficult subject matter with sensitivity and aplomb, offering us a host of good characters and great performances in which we can really invest. It's not without its problems, narrative or symbolic, but it's still a gripping and visceral drama that really deserves to be seen.
July 22, 2013
Daniel Mumby
Daniel Mumby

Super Reviewer

    1. Maria: We have to help that little boy. Even if it's the last thing that we could do.
    – Submitted by Glyncel Joy A (15 months ago)
    1. Maria: : Lucas, look at this place. They're so busy in here. You get to go and do something. Go help people. You're good at it.
    – Submitted by Lucas M (16 months ago)
    1. Maria: Am I dead?
    – Submitted by Erick T (18 months ago)
    1. Maria: Close your eyes, think of something nice.
    – Submitted by Teong Kai L (18 months ago)
    1. Lucas: Mum, I found Daniele, he was happy.
    – Submitted by Adam M (18 months ago)
    1. Henry: [reading note] We are at the beach...
    – Submitted by Sarah L (18 months ago)
View all quotes (10)

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