Despite occurring in Asia, the Boxing day Tsunami of 2004 was a truly world event, with ripples emanating around the world as many of the 280,000 plus victims were holiday makers from all over the globe.
Focusing on a single family’s true story, albeit changing their nationality from Spanish to English, was always going to invite accusations of filtering a tragic story through the eyes of a white privileged family, rather than the locals who lost everything.
This is perhaps unfair, in the same way “Schindlers List” might be accused of focusing on those few that survived. Highlighting one families initial struggle, by telling a story a modern audience can comprehend or realistically watch, was the only practical option. Artistic licence is regretfully necessary to secure not only movie funding but offer a ray of hope for a western audience to desperately cling to.
And holding on, is what you may have to do, even with the glimmer of hope offered. This is truthful, unflinching and harrowing film making.
Be warned, this is no easy watch.
The story centres on Maria (Naomi Watts ), her husband (Ewan Mcgregor) and three young sons, Lucas (Tom Holland), Simon (Samuel Joslin) and Thomas (Oaklee Pendergast), on holiday at a upmarket beach resort in Khao Lak.
The sense of foreboding is swiftly alluded to and when the wave hits, the effect is quite breathtaking. The effects are terrifying to watch but more than that, there is visceral quality to the sound and turmoil. A maelstrom of not knowing which way is up with the sheer terror conveyed in a unsentimental manner, stripped of the usual Hollywood veneer. “Towering Inferno or “2012” this is not, a disaster movie that conveys just that, disaster on a colossal human scale.
Managing to survive, Lucas and mum are reunited. The pair attempt to find help for the serious injuries sustained by Maria. The foley (Sound) and special effect work providing suitably grisly and very believable sound effects and wounds. At times this only stops just short of horror, it is intense, emotional and deeply troubling. The response of Lucas to his mothers injuries and state of undress, is truly gut wrenching.
To say too much more would rob the story of it’s emotional highs and lows. Overall the film is sensitively handled, with the film makers taking pains to show the local effort and help provided, hammering home that no-one is safe when a Tsunami hits, white, brown, rich or poor. Latterly the film suggests that being wealthy or just holding good insurance cover, can whisk you away from all the unpleasantness. In the modern world, this represents undisputed fact. Whether this is “right”, is a philosophical debate not likely to be resolved in a two hour movie.
The acting is uniformly good, Watts gets the most to do and excels in a role that cannot have been easy from both a physical and emotional sense. The young boys are all exceptional, Tom Holland showing world class talent. The director Juan Antonio Bayona, teasing superb performances even from his youngest cast members. McGregor is solid and certainly does not let the side down.
Whether the film needed to be made or indeed whether the intended audience exists, is subject to debate. Does it provide a small but just watchable glimpse into what such an event would feel like, yes. Will it live with you for a few days at least, certainly. For those directly involved, is this a fitting tribute to the human spirit and kindness shown? – Impossible to say.
A natural disaster movie that is both affecting, effective and unflinching in the depiction of a very real recent event with several notable performances.
This is not for everyone, despite the focus on a white middle class family, this is no airbrushed Hollywood watered down TV movie. From the moment the Tsunami arrives, an emotional rollercoaster is unleashed and is not for the faint of heart.