Lean on me – ★★★★
Block that horrendous trailer from your mind, sit back and be drawn into a heart wrenching, horror-esque, disaster movie of unimaginable proportions.
Juan Antonio Bayona has chosen to follow the true story of one family and how the events of the 26th of December 2004 changed their lives forever. Bayona’s most recent outing was 2007’s The Orphanage, a terrifyingly tense yet subtle horror movie. Knowing this we can be sure that we won’t be presented with a rose-tinted view of the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts take on the roles of Maria and Henry Belon who were holidaying with their three sons when the tsunami hit.
The first segment of the film sets up the family scenario, but it isn’t long until the wave hits and we follow Watts and her son Lucas (Tom Holland) as they try and survive the enormous wall of water. This is where Bayona’s horror schooling comes into play and some of the scenes are quite difficult to watch with regard to the physical condition of Watts. Once they make it to a hospital we see the absolute chaos that ensued and how the doctors and nurses tried to cope.
The film plays out revealing slowly what is going on as we don’t discover the fate of McGregor and the other children until half way through the film. Once an issue appears to be resolved it’s turned on its head and you imagine a bit of artistic licence is being taken. However the real life Maria Belon (Watts) was involved with all aspects of the filming and maintains the only deviation from the story was her child’s ball was yellow not red as it is in the film. Due to how the film is paced it makes for an incredibly tense, harrowing watch. Scenes come out of nowhere trying to convey the shear devastation caused as upwards of 230,000 people died in the tsunami.
All performances are fantastic especially from the three children; Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin and Oaklee Pendergast each showing great maturity for their age. Watts has the toughest time physically and emotionally in one sense becoming the classic horror genre damsel in distress. There is no monster or bogey man after her, simply mother nature and it couldn’t care one iota for your situation. McGregor makes up for 2011’s terrible Perfect Sense and shows why he had garnered such acclaim in the past with one scene in particular involving a phone call.
Criticism will no doubt come about how the family are originally Spanish and have been re-cast with white actors. As an artist though you want the biggest possible audience to see your work and there is no question that if Bayona had done this in his native tongue it wouldn’t have been seen by half as many people. He kept the same cinematographer, Oscar Faura and editor, Elena Ruiz that worked with him on The Orphanage and the large water tank was created in Spain so while it may contain white English speaking actors it’s very much a Spanish affair.
Cynics will hate this dismissing it as hokey, obnoxious first world melodrama but the fact is we all know the feeling of when a loved one is thought to be in danger. The Impossible manages to take a horrific event and distil it down to capture the essence of the human spirit.
Spain / Directed By: Juan Antonio Bayona / Written By: Sergio G. Sánchez / Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Samuel Joslin, Oaklee Pendergast / 114min / Action, Drama / Release: 1 January 2013 (UK/Ireland), 21 December 2012 (USA/Canada)
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