In The Impossible, Juan Antonio Bayona, he of the terrifying and profile raising ghost story The Orphanage, makes his English language debut in order to tell the story of a British family struggling to survive during the devastating 2004 Thailand tsunami. The film is anchored by Naomi Watts as the wife/mother of that family; her performance is an astonishingly raw, incredibly emotionally gripping masterpiece. She receives able support from a wonderful ensemble. Ewan McGregor is the husband and father of the family and his emotional rawness is nearly the equal of Watts’; a phone conversation late in the film is perhaps the finest acting of McGregor’s entire career – it certainly takes its place in any proper highlight reel of the actor’s wonderful career. The Orphanage already established that Bayona is very good at directing young actors and he solidifies that here. Tom Holland is very good as the eldest son; he’s required to carry a large section of the film by himself and he manages it. Samuel Joslin and Oakley Pendergast as the two younger sons are also excellent. But the rest of the cast is absolutely perfect. Bayona allows his camera to meander through the chaos of the aftermath of the tsunami in a really terrifying fashion. As the camera travels through a hospital or down a devastated roadway, the performances by those captured even if only fleetingly are haunting and disturbing. I’ll mention one name; Douglas Johannson as a father desperately seeking for his son – he has no dialogue in English and none of its subtitled either. He’s on screen for less than five minutes, but you walk out remembering his incredibly emotional performance. There are faces like this all through the film, the faces of people who are in the film even less than Johannson, people that we never hear speak or only hear scream or weep, people that the camera only acknowledges for a handful of seconds. There’s a woman that the camera pans past in a matter of less than five seconds near the end of the film; I remember her emotion vividly, the look on her face. This is the way Bayona has populated the movie; you feel that you’re catching only tiny glimpses of hundreds of other devastating stories and it’s the performances from even the extras that really sells this part of the film and really emphasizes the horrific situation the main family finds themselves in. I’ve never quite had the reaction to a film’s cast that I had to this one. But I have to say that the number of great performances given in this film, number into the dozens; some of the performances are center stage – others last only seconds. But the cumulative impact of this amazing ensemble is breathtaking.
Next time, it’s time for a break from all this brilliance for my pick for Worst Ensemble I saw in 2013. It’s a film that came out decades ago and it’s considered a classic, so maybe we’ll have some controversy over the fact that I think it featured the worst all-around acting I saw all year.