Movie review: The Impossible

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From the January 24, 2013 edition

As you glance down your Oscar nominee checklist, you might pause at “The Impossible,” which garnered a Best Actress nomination for Naomi Watts, and ask, “What’s that?”

The enigma of the title probably comes from the fact that there was no tasteful way to call it “The Tsunami Movie.”

Telling one family’s true story of survival during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami is a daunting task. And while there are pieces of brilliance, the whole doesn’t come together.

A husband and wife (Ewan McGregor and Watts) are vacationing in Thailand with their three young sons when the tsunami hits. Swept apart (literally), we get a first-hand perspective of the human toll of the disaster.

Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona (“The Orphanage”) tries to give us an individualized look at sweeping disaster, but he spends little time introducing us to this family before the wave strikes, making it harder to connect than it should be.

That sequence, early in the film, is harrowing, as both stellar effects and some truly innovative sound design (Oscar-worthy but not nominated) make the experience claustrophobic and terrifying.

As for Watts’ performance, she’s stellar with the demanding role, but she’s been far better (see “Mulholland Dr.” or “21 Grams”). This one is mostly recommended for the Oscar completists.