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posted: 12/20/2012 6:00 AM

Survival thriller 'Impossible' perfect blend of danger, humanity

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  • Lucas (Tom Holland) comforts his wounded mother (Naomi Watts) after they survive a horrific tsunami in the survival thriller "The Impossible."

      Lucas (Tom Holland) comforts his wounded mother (Naomi Watts) after they survive a horrific tsunami in the survival thriller "The Impossible."

  • Marion Cotillard stars in the drama "Rust and Bone."

      Marion Cotillard stars in the drama "Rust and Bone."

  • Video: THE IMPOSSIBLE trailer

  • Video: RUST AND BONE trailer

 
 

Reel Life mini-review: 'The Impossible'

"The Impossible" ranks as the greatest vacation-gone-bad movie of all-time so far. Plus, it's one of the most intense, tautest and most urgent survival movies I've ever witnessed.

It's based on a true story of a tsunami that rudely interrupted the tropical holiday of a family in Thailand on Dec. 26, 2004.

Henry and Maria (Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts) and their three sons are in a swank hotel pool when the waves thunder over the land, crushing buildings and throwing people around like rag dolls.

The urgent, visceral disaster scene contains even greater drama and terror than the one in Clint Eastwood's "Hereafter," especially when we share Maria's experience being violently caught up in the tsunami. We hear and see what she hears and sees, and the effect is nothing less than raw and intense.

Then the real horror begins. Maria awakes, barely alive, ripped and torn by objects in the water.

She has no idea where her family is. Then, her eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland in a galvanizing performance) finds her, and they go looking for the rest of their family.

Even Lucas realizes his mother is more seriously injured than she lets on. So the two begin an impossible quest to find hope and help before Mom's metabolic clock runs down.

The raw power of "The Impossible" comes from its director, Spanish filmmaker Juan Antonio Bayona, who directed "The Orphanage," a ghost drama and the scariest movie made since "The Exorcist."

Bayona isn't above some cheesy manipulations, and his emphasis on the white family -- while downplaying native Thais suffering under the same circumstances -- feels a little short of compassionate.

Watts is exemplary in a role that requires her to make passive behavior (lying on cots and so forth) interesting. But this movie belongs to young Holland, whose sheer charisma and projected empathy make him an actor to watch.

As a survival thriller, "The Impossible" perfectly combines palpable danger with human characters we can adopt as our own family for 104 minutes.

"The Impossible" opens at the Century Centre in Chicago, the Evanston Century 18 and the Renaissance Place in Highland Park. Rated PG-13 for (disaster-related) violence, nudity. 104 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ★

Reel Life film notes:

Mark your calendars: Dann and Raymond's Movie Club returns in 2013 with two programs:

• "Let Loose the Dogs of Film! The Greatest Canine Movies" featuring Rin-tin-tin in his first starring role, plus the first Lassie movie, along with tributes to Old Yeller, Skip (as in "My Dog"), Marley, White Fang, the Shaggy Dog and others. It starts at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 3, at the Schaumburg Library, 130 S. Roselle Road, Schaumburg. Free admission. (Dogs not allowed.) stdl.org.

• "Heeeeeeeeeeeeere's Jack! The Films of Jack Nicholson" with analysis and discussion of this veteran Hollywood superstar's contributions to cinema. With clips from such films as "Little Shop of Horrors," "Easy Rider," "The Shining," "Batman," "A Few Good Men" and many more. At 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 10, at the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, 500 N. Dunton Road, Arlington Heights. Free admission! ahml.info.

Tom no Reacher, Jack!

Dear Dann: My wife and I enjoyed our time at the "Jack Reacher" screening (sponsored Tuesday for Daily Herald Total Access subscribers). Being a Reacher fan, I admit that I was disappointed in the casting choice.

What was interesting to me was the fact that throughout the movie, I kept looking at the ways they tried to hide the stature of Tom C. I found it very distracting. Interesting, but for me distracting. -- Pat DeMoon, St. Charles

Dear Pat: You mean you didn't think Cruise measured up to the 6-foot, 6-inch hero from Lee Child's 17 novels? I expected the filmmakers to do a Gandalf trick to make Cruise's character appear to be taller than everyone else. Didn't happen, did it?

At least Cruise can take comfort in knowing that he made a better 6½-foot ex-military cop than John Travolta did a 9-foot-tall alien in "Battlefield Earth." -- Dann

Reel Life mini-review: 'Rust and Bone'

Jacques Audiard's poignant "Rust and Bone" is another, quite different survival tale melded with a tough romance between two damaged people struggling to connect.

A young father named Ali (Matthias Schoenaerts) has no job, money, friends or home. He brings his 5-year-old son, Sam (Armand Verdure), to his sister's house in the south of France where he lucks out and gets a job as a club bouncer.

This leads to Ali becoming a prizefighting kickboxer in the streets, a lucrative but dangerous way to make a living.

He meets Stephanie (the beguiling Marion Cotillard) when he breaks up a bar fight. The two seem to connect, and that foreshadows their future relationship after Stephanie, a whale trainer, loses her legs in a terrible accident at work.

Feeling lost and depressed, Stephanie remembers the kindness the bouncer showed her, so she calls him up. He comes over.

Their unlikely relationship takes root in a restrained, almost documentarylike story touched with moments of pure poetry.

"Rust and Bone" chronicles their love story, devoid of sentiment and gooey manipulation, yet radiant with honesty and the kind of credibility that comes from slowly earning someone's trust and respect.

The refined and cultured Stephanie hardly seems a good match for Ali's rough, animallike personality.

Cotillard, fresh from her role as Gotham City's philanthropist in "The Dark Knight Returns," has the sort of whirlpool eyes that drink us into her characters and render us vulnerable to their vulnerabilities.

In stark contrast, Schoenaerts operates on caveman physicality and survival instincts, doing anything he can to protect his son (including sacrificing the 27 bones in his fist to save his son during a tragic accident) and keep his dignity.

Here's a movie romance utterly without formula, cliché or contrivance, a study of a relationship so implausible that it feels truly real.

And, unlike most Hollywood romances, truly earned.

"Rust and Bone" opens at the Century Centre in Chicago. In French with subtitles. Rated R for language, nudity, sexual situations, violence. 118 minutes. ★ ★ ★ ½

Daily Herald Film Critic Dann Gire's column runs Fridays in Time out!

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