I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
It’s a disaster movie, but not as we know it. Sure, a British family vacationing in Thailand over the holidays in 2004 is hit head-on by the Boxing Day tsunami, and this opening sequence is as intense and as terrifying as anything the cinema of cataclysm has ever given us… with the extra unanticipated nightmarish bonus of depicting, through slow, precise horrors, just how devastating an invading carpet of ocean can be, even when it’s nothing at all like the monstrous wall of water disaster movies of the past have trained us to expect. Maria (Naomi Watts: J. Edgar) and her eldest son, the 12-ish Lucas (Tom Holland: Arrietty), are violently swept away into a landscape that would be alien to them, as foreign visitors, even had it not been rendered unrecognizable by rushing water… and this additional level of chaos and dislocation negates, I believe, the disapproval that’s been tut-tutted with regards to the film, that it chose to focus on white Westerners rather than native Thai victims. That Maria and Lucas do not speak the language of those who eventually come to their aid adds another complex layer of disconnect and, ironically, shared humanity; the impetus to help those in jeopardy transcends language and culture here, in more ways than one. (That the film, which is based on a true story, changes the nationality of the real-life family from Spanish to British is less easy to justify, beyond the usual rationale that financial backing was easier to come by with internationally recognized names in the starring roles. As if there are no internationally recognized Spanish actors.) Now, separated from her husband (Ewan McGregor: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) and younger sons (Oaklee Pendergast and Samuel Joslin), unaware of whether they’re even still alive, Maria and Lucas must struggle not only to survive but to find their family. Director Juan Antonio Bayona, who made the wonderfully creepy The Orphanage, brings a new heart to the disaster film, focusing not on the large scale of physical destruction but on the small scale of fragile, traumatized people amidst the unimaginable scope of the catastrophe, which — we see — leaves tens of thousands of people, visitors and natives alike, lost in ways both metaphorical and literal. There are moments here of such profound despair and heartbreak — one in particular features McGregor losing his composure in a way I cannot recall ever seeing a man do onscreen before — that it’s impossible not to share it.