An impressive performance by Naomi Watts, and breathtaking sequences that bring to life the deadly 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, make for a disaster movie with real family drama.
Based on the true story of one Spanish family's experience in Khao Lak, Thailand, The Impossible focuses on the now-English Maria and Henry and their three sons as they struggle to survive this tragic natural disaster.
Along the way it portrays the overwhelming magnitude and devastation of this event and its effect on so many tourists and locals.
Spanish director J.A. Bayona (The Orphanage) makes the set-up almost unbearable. We know a wave is going to hit - to his credit he doesn't make us wait long - so watching Maria and Henry settle into their holiday, celebrate Christmas and relax with their three children in paradise is tense.
When the tsunami hits it's heart-stopping and terrifying. In a voyeuristic way it allows us to experience the power and size of the tsunami, and what it must have been like on the ground in Southeast Asia. As a parent, it's nightmare viewing.
For the most part, the film follows Maria (Watts) and her eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland), who find each other in the rushing waters and struggle to get to solid ground. Maria is badly hurt and, as much as she fights it, realises her survival depends on Lucas looking after them both. It's fair to say the young man steps up to the responsibility.
Husband Henry (McGregor) and the younger sons also survive, with Henry wandering the countryside looking for his wife and oldest son. Some decisions he makes are not the best, but it serves to remind us how, when faced with an unimaginable disaster, our rational thinking can go out of the window.
As The Impossible progresses, the story gets a little lost in the melodrama of the family story and its coincidences, with the ending wrapped up a little too neatly.
But Watts is fantastic, in both her action scenes and when she is fighting for her life in an overcrowded hospital, and young Tom Holland does a remarkable job in his character's coming-of-age story.
The real star of the film though, is the visual effects-created tsunami. The Impossible won't be the most fun you have at the movies this year, but it will be memorable.
Cast: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor
Director: J.A. Bayona
Running time: 113 mins
Rating: M (adult themes)
Verdict: Quite devastating