The Impossible Movie Review 0 55

The Impossible Movie Review

After delivering a heartfelt and chilling ghost story back in 2007 with The Orphanage, Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona makes the jump to English language features with The Impossible. Based on the horrible true story of the tsunami that occurred in East Asia on Boxing Day 2004, the film follows a family who are on holiday in Thailand when the disaster strikes. Separated by the crushing water and devastated landscape of the previously picturesque location, the family try everything they can to be reunited with one another.

What may seem from the outside like a tasteless film that’s only interested in exploiting a tragedy for the sake of weepy entertainment is actually handled with a lot more tact and respectfulness. If you’re going to make a film about such a horrendous ordeal then there’s no getting around the fact that the horrors of what these people went through have to be shown on-screen. Attempting to cover up the terrible reality would be the real tasteless act.

Out with the thunderously effective tsunami sequence itself (which is made all the more impressive by the fact that it was largely shot practically), it’s the performances from the likes of Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor and relative newcomer Tom Holland that lends the film its real power. You really feel for them not just being caught up in this unthinkable disaster but in their determined quest to find each other among the carnage of the tsunami’s aftermath. The film almost solely concentrates on the Brit family, often at the expense of delving deep into how the whole thing has affected others, but while problematic it does provide a central anchor for the viewer.

A lot of people have taken issue with the fact that the nationality of the family has been changed from Spanish to British (which, it has been admitted, was a way to make it more commercial) but it’s really only an issue that, again, allows the film to be unfairly judged beforehand when in fact it works perfectly well in context. This is a story of universal survival that we all can relate to in some way as much as it is the telling of a very real ordeal, a film less about showcasing the devastation of the initial disaster for the whole runtime ala The Day After Tomorrow and more about the quest for resolution and being reunited with loved ones against all odds.

The film does go overboard in its emotion at times, however, allowing itself to fall into sentimental traps when it was doing fine without such overdone emotional manipulation. Too many scenes of tears slowly falling down Watts’ cheek as she gazes at the tragedy around her, for example, take away from the overall believability and threaten to pull you out of the film. Thankfully these moments are in the minority as there are far more emotional scenes that are handled superbly, with one scene involving McGregor’s desperate father making a phone call back home standing out as a heartbreaking highlight.

Not without its flaws, The Impossible is perhaps not the masterpiece made out of a tragedy as something like United 93 was, but at the same time it’s not at all the exploitative mess it so easily could have been. Some manipulative missteps aside this is a powerfully acted and affecting film that grabs you as much with its visceral reality of a terrifying disaster as much as it makes you care for the people it focuses on.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 530

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 556

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10

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