I've been on an Oscar movie roll lately haven't I? Well, I couldn't miss this one. I like Naomi Watts (nominated for Best Actress in this role) and Ewan McGregor well enough. But I think the real appeal for me was knowing that this story of a family of five, who were staying at a resort in Thailand when the 2004 tsunami hit, and who all survived and were reunited, IS TRUE. Kinda clues you in on the origin of the title, no?
In the movie, Maria and Henry Bennett have brought their sons Lucas (12), Tomas (7) and Simon (5) to a paradise resort in Khao Lak, Thailand for a Christmas vacation. The family is originally from Australia or New Zealand (I am guessing, it was not specified) but are currently living in Japan. When the tsunami hit, they were all at the pool. Henry manages to grab the two younger boys, while Maria and Lucas end up being swept away, inland, but together.
Maria sustains a toe-curling wound to her upper thigh. The other family members are generally unharmed, save cuts and bruises (which to me is unbelievable). Maria and Lucas are eventually rescued by locals and taken to the hospital, where Maria fights for her life. Henry leaves the two younger boys with a rescue organization while he searches for Maria and Lucas. (Another WTF moment. Can you imagine leaving a 5 and 7 year old?) So at one point, they are all running around separately in a foreign-speaking country that is completely incapable of handling a tragedy of this caliber. It is total chaos. (Over 200,000 people were killed in this tsunami.)
But eventually, their paths all cross at the hospital where Maria is located. This is not really a spoiler because this is the whole point of the story...what has happened to this family seems totally impossible. If this had been a fictional story, I would have given the movie one star, because it was so improbable and predictably happily-ever-after. The fact that it actually happened completely changes things. It is mind-blowing.
In reality, the family's name was Belon, and were from Spain. The names and nationality was changed, and a couple of big names were cast, to give the movie a broader appeal. I'm not totally sure how I feel about that. So we'd rather see white people in the movie than Hispanic? We'd rather not read subtitles? I guess it has ultimately worked out for the film company, and was released nationwide. This may not have happened had it been an indie.
The acting was good all around. By the time this review posts, we will know the results of the 2013 Oscars, but I'll say now that I don't think Watts will receive the nod. She is good, don't get me wrong. It is just that most of her work here is screaming, crying and looking like she is going to die. And Ewan is...Ewan. His acting is usually pretty solid. I was particularly impressed with the young actor who played Lucas, Tom Holland, who has had some experience on the stage. I look for this kid to get some roles going forward.
I found the reenactment of the tsunami very realistic, and the trauma experienced by Watts and Holland terrifying and violent. The director did an amazing job of pulling the viewer into the experience of being swept away by a force of energy equivalent to 5 megatons of TNT - it is extreme. Watts and Holland apparently thrashed around in huge tanks of water for five weeks, gulping and choking and being generally miserable.
Because I knew the general outcome of the Bennett/Belon family, I was less inclined to cry like a fool. But there are a few moments where you might need your tissues. Overall it is an emotional, traumatic and hopeful film.
4 out of 5 stars