Directed by: Juan Antonio Bayona
Starring: Naomi Watts ,Ewan McGregor, Tom Holland, Geraldine Chaplin
In cinemas now.
The horrific Tsunami in Thailand in 2004 was one of those moments that drew the world together in shock and empathy. I, like many people, can remember exactly where I was that December 26th when the news broke, and I also knew a couple of people personally affected by the disaster, so when I heard that a movie had been made dealing with one family’s fight for survival during the crisis my initial thought was “too soon”.
Indeed people affected by the disaster have made claims that they have felt ambushed by the trailers for this movie which were running directly before The Hobbit and having seen the movie it’s not difficult to see why. The Tsunami is captured in all its grisly horror as it destroys everything in its wake and these scenes would be truly spectacular if this was a run of the mill action movie. However, this is a real life tragedy and the result is that you feel uncomfortable watching it knowing that this actually happened to people just like you and me who were enjoying Christmas in sunny climes one minute and the next fighting for their life.
However, these scenes only make up a tiny portion of the film and actually occur within the first ten minutes. They are not for the faint hearted but they are over relatively quickly. The rest of the movie deals with one family’s struggle to survive the disaster and to reunite having been separated when the wave struck. While this is a true story the actual family it is based on were Spanish so why director Bayona felt the need to make them English is unclear but possibly he thought the movie would reach a wider audience if he did. However this is a powerful story and I, for one, don’t think the family’s nationality needed to be changed.
Watts and McGregor give stellar performances as always – although Watts spends much of the film on a hospital gurney awaiting a life saving operation. However the real star of this film is newcomer Holland who plays their son Lucas and has already, quite rightly, garnered numerous accolades for his performance. At many points it is left to him to carry the movie and he does this with a maturity that belies his years and experience. Indeed all the child actors in this film are marvellous and Bayona has veered away from “the cutes” in order to give the children a certain degree of substance.
After the initial storm scenes this is very slow moving and those who are expecting a rip roaring action movie a la The River will be disappointed. What this is is a human story that is fresh enough in most people’s memory to affect us.
I do think it is possibly too soon to be making this movie (out of deference to the victims) and I would also question the decision to launch it in cinemas so close to the anniversary of actual events. However, it has been handled sensitively and is never sensationalised. Bayona tries to give a sense of the hopelessness and devastation felt in the wake of the disaster and more often than not succeeds. It is impossible not to be moved by this but I was never sure if it was the movie that was firing my emotions or the memories I have of the incident. Either way this is a touching movie that tells a wonderful story of triumph over adversity. This could easily have slipped into Lifetime Movie of the Week territory but it manages to hold on to its big screen credentials throughout.
Don’t expect to come out of this movie feeling happy and relieved but you will experience a sense of catharsis while feeling hugely grateful that you weren’t caught up in this tragedy.
You’ll like this if you liked: Alive, World Trade Centre