December 17, 2012 -- This film is based on the incredible true story of a Spanish family's (portrayed as British in the film) survival of the devastating Tsunami in Thailand on December 26, 2004. The Indonesian Tsunami, which killed nearly a quarter of a million people in 14 countries is reproduced convincingly in this direct, spare, powerful English-Spanish production directed by Juan Antonio Bayona (“The Orphanage”) screenplay by Sergio G. Sánchez.
This is pretty much a point-of-view film that puts you right into the heart of the chaos of this Tsunami, which struck without warning in the morning as the family relaxed poolside at an upscale resort. There is no narration, no screen text to explain things, not much dialog and the film never strays from the members of the family. Everything in the film is shown from a personal perspective.
The family is played by Naomi Watts (“J. Edgar”) as Maria, the mother, Ewan McGregor (“Beginners”) as Henry, the father, and their three sons, Lucas (played by Tom Holland) the oldest, and his younger brothers Thomas (Samuel Joslin) and Simon (Oaklee Pendergast). When the wave hit, members of the family were separated from each other. Maria and Lucas were swept far inland from the resort, but managed to stay together. Lucas had to take care of his mother who was badly hurt.
Maria, however, insisted that Lucas help others, even though his instinct was to help only his mother and himself. Together, the two rescue another survivor, a young boy named Daniel (Johan Sundberg). The three of them set off to find civilization beyond the utter devastation of the Tsunami zone. Maria, bleeding from her wounds, desperately needs medical care.
Meanwhile Henry and the two other boys, Thomas and Simon have survived the Tsunami at the resort by clinging to trees. As Henry goes in search of Maria and Lucas, he leaves Thomas and Simon in the care of other tourists who are being bused to the mountains for safety. Thomas must look after his younger brother, a task he is not comfortable with. The two boys are shuffled from one rescue shelter to another and rescuers lose track of where they are.
Henry, who is injured himself, struggles on through the muck and debris, looking for the rest of his family. The devastation area is so vast, so hard to navigate that his task seems impossible, yet he refuses to give up. Strangers, villagers and tourists band together to help each other.
The performances in this film are excellent. I was especially impressed with the children. Another strong part of the film was the exceptional work by the Makeup Department. Maria's wounds and other injuries looked very real. Less extreme, but just as convincing, were the simulated injuries to Henry and Lucas made possible with makeup effects, including prosthetics and special contact lenses, etc.
This is a powerful film because of the performances and the powerful visual effects which convincingly simulate a disaster of sweeping proportions, but the film sticks to the family at the center of the story and never lets go of the human element. This is a disaster film that manages to avoid the pitfalls of this genre. This film rates a B+.
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