The Impossible is a highly polished, skillfully made piece of disaster porn, and beneath it lies a rather depressing commentary on what American audiences will or will not buy tickets to see (or at least what we're perceived as being willing to see).
The film follows the experiences of one family during and after the tsunami that devastated much of southeast Asia in 2004. The setting is Thailand, but of course, we can't be asked to empathize with a Thai family; a European family is required. And so the filmmakers, who are Spanish, found a Spanish family with an inspiring story of survival on whom to base their film.
But apparently, we Americans are not seen as willing even to put up with Spaniards as protagonists -- all those funny accents and swarthy skin, don'cha know. No, we must be given Englishmen. Pale-skinned, blond-haired, blue-eyed Englishmen.
And so the cast is headed by Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts, who have taken their three children to a top-notch Thai resort for Christmas vacation. The tsunami hits (impressive special effects work here), the family is separated, courage is required, etc. etc. etc.
Naomi Watts got an Oscar nomination for this movie, and there's certainly nothing wrong with her work, but it's not particularly interesting or unusual; the nomination suggests that Watts is becoming the Meryl Streep of her generation, and that we can expect to see her nominated anytime she does anything more complex than reciting "Humpty Dumpty."
There is a charming cameo from Geraldine Chaplin (Bayona must like her; she had a lovely short scene in The Orphanage, too), but the best performance in the movie is from Tom Holland, playing the family's oldest son. He's perhaps 12 or 13, and when his mother is injured, he's forced to grow up and take more responsibility than a child that age should ever have to handle. Holland does a lovely job here, teetering on the edge between the boy he still is and the man he will someday be, holding in all of the fear and uncertainty that he doesn't think he can let his mother see. But beyond Holland, there's nothing novel here, and no compelling reason to see the movie.