But man, is this thing heavy-handed. Although “The Impossible” sucks you in at the start, it proceeds to pound you over the head after that.
Watts and Ewan McGregor co-star as Maria and Henry, a happily married British couple spending Christmas at a luxury resort in Thailand with their adorable sons, played by Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast. (The real-life family whose story inspired the film was Spanish, like the director himself; changing their ethnicity and casting famous people to play them seems like a rather transparent attempt to appeal to a larger audience.)
During a quiet morning by the pool, the first massive wave comes ashore, scattering the family and thousands of strangers across the devastated landscape. “The Impossible” tracks their efforts to survive, reconnect, find medical care and get out of town. Maria and eldest son Lucas have managed to stick together, as have Henry and the youngest boys, Thomas and Simon. But neither group knows that the others are alive. The sense of loneliness and fear that sets in during those first quiet moments after the mayhem has settled are eerie.
Both halves of the family trudge on, though. The near-misses at an overcrowded hospital are just too agonizing to be true, and the uplifting score swells repeatedly in overpowering fashion, urging us to feel, as if we wouldn't know how on our own.
Meanwhile, the countless thousands of native people suffer in a blur — literally, they're fleeting images glimpsed from the back of a rumbling pickup on a dirt road.
Either that or they're elderly, toothless saints spouting gibberish, but they never feel like real people who've just endured the devastation of the only home they've ever known.
Film review'The Impossible'
What: This depiction of a family struggling in the aftermath of the deadly 2004 tsunami that pummeled Southeast Asia tends to be too heavy-handed.
Where playing: Carmike-Jefferson Pointe, Coldwater
Running time: 1 hour, 47 minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense, realistic disaster sequences, including disturbing injury images, and brief nudity