Director: J.A. Bayona
Starring: Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor
Release: January 4th 2013, viewed on Redbox DVD rental
Rating: 4 out of 5 huge vats of tears, which is unfortunate in the sense that the last thing this movie needs is more water flowing through it. Expectedly emotional and well acted, unexpectedly beautiful and well crafted.
I was hesitant to see this movie: I thought I wouldn’t be able to see past what some people called white washing (substituting Spanish for British as the protagonists’ nationality and whether this supported the universality of human experience or erased ethnicity in order to appeal to white movie going masses). I thought I would be way too neurotic to go through the trauma of the tsunami with these characters. I thought I’d be bored, or emotional, I thought it wasn’t my thing, or that it was too soon, too melodramatic, too unnecessary.
Well, in the end, I was mostly impressed. It was a quality film. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard to watch because at times it REALLY was.
The long shot of the waves hitting was truly horrific (as were the telling close ups of seemingly random things leading up to the wave, making its arrival all the more intense in comparison with such ordinary things) and any other scene from that point on was painfully immersive. I think if I’d seen this in the movies, I would have felt like I was drowning. Cross cutting later between Naomi Watts’ Maria as she is put under anesthesia for surgery and her spin-cycle-esque thrashing underwater is altogether beautiful to watch and terrifying to experience. Because that is what the best moments in this film are: an experience that is not really pleasant but that just means the filmmaking was top notch, in my opinion.
I think the stand out performance here though was actually not Naomi Watts but a distraught Ewan McGregor.
The only sequence that was distractingly, over the top frustrating for me was when all the members of the family find themselves in the same place, and the camera frames one just as the other has exited or both separated by a huge expanse of depth filled with the hospital scenery. I guess it was effective in that it added to the mounting tension and release that ensues when, spoiler, they all find each other. But other people were not so lucky of course, and that indeed would have been an even more depressing movie than this one was.
I think if you like true stories with (mostly) happy endings and good acting and some really stunning moments of cinematography, I’d say watch this movie, definitely. But it’s really nothing revolutionary, and it is a really tough event portrayed (with some pretty graphic, gruesome, and viscerally real parts just FYI) so its not necessarily a movie one can enjoy, per se.