The Impossible movie review: A mother's miracle

Dec 21, 2012 at 9:00 a.m. ET

Based on a real-life story, this gut-wrenching film tells the tale of how one family survived the 2004 tsunami while on vacation in Thailand. Visually brutal and intense, this is some of the best filmmaking of the year.

The Impossible

5 stars: Perfect for those who refuse to take life for granted

Maria (Naomi Watts), Henry (Ewan McGregor) and their three sons journey to Thailand where they plan on having a tropical Christmas. On Dec. 26, 2004, as the family lounges by the swimming pool, they and the other guests hear a loud rumbling. The freakish sound is a massive wall of black water crashing onto land.

Broken glass, lawn furniture and fish are just some of the debris racing toward vacationers at high speed. Henry wraps his arms around his two youngest sons while Maria is blasted through a plate-glass wall.

The tsunami wave is pounding and turbulent, and the footage is just as relentless. I had to remind myself to breathe, which was easier when Maria finally came up for air. She sees her oldest son Lucas (Tom Holland) nearby and calls for him, but reaching him proves treacherous.

The Impossible

Both with terrible gashes on their faces and bodies, mother and son reunite — but they aren’t out of trouble yet. Once they finally make it to land, Lucas notices his mother’s calf has been severely injured, with her flesh and muscle literally hanging off her leg. This is only one of the many stunning and horrific images from the film that is not for the faint of heart.

Making a crude tourniquet, Maria and Lucas decide their best bet is to climb a tree in case another wave hits. Before they do, however, they hear the cry of a young child. Terrified, Lucas wants to get up the tree as soon as possible, but Maria’s motherly instinct kicks in. She explains to her son that they must help the child, even if it’s the last thing they do.

The pair finally discovers an angelic three-year-old boy, wrapped in reeds and palms, evoking the Biblical image of Moses being found in the river. They rescue the tiny thing, if you can call sitting in a tree a rescue.

Eventually, Maria and Lucas end up in an overwhelmed Thai hospital where they are just two of the hundreds who are injured. Maria, a doctor herself, is weak and losing a lot of blood. She needs surgery on her leg before the infection kills her.

The Impossible

Naomi Watts exhibits the strength and courage of a lioness, protecting her young. Ewan McGregor also gives a powerful performance of a man struggling to find his family amidst the horror.

The true star of the film, however, is young Tom Holland for tackling the grueling physical and emotional journey of Lucas, who had to grow up and take on adult responsibilities in a matter of minutes. Survival is like that.

Bottom line: The Impossible will literally take your breath away. Just when you think you've seen the worst, this family's journey pushes the limits of survival and hope. If blood makes you squeamish, however, you may not make it through the film. Enjoy!

Photo credit: Summit Distribution