Based on the harrowing experiences of a family caught up in the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, real-life disaster movie The Impossible will leave you awestruck.

In the leading roles, Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor dial down their Hollywood glamour to play middle-class British couple Maria and Henry (in reality Spanish husband and wife María Belon and Enrique Alvarez), who are on holiday at a beach resort in Thailand with their three young sons when the tsunami strikes with terrifying suddenness and force.

Director Juan Antonio Bayona and his crew convey the violence of the tsunami brilliantly, but it’s the way they handle its aftermath that really distinguishes their film. Churned and pummelled by the surging waters, Maria and 11-year-old son Lucas (superbly played by newcomer Tom Holland) surface inland to find themselves in the midst of near-total devastation.

The ensuing scenes of their struggle for survival are tremendously gripping and affecting, as are the sequences that deal with the fates of McGregor’s Henry and the younger boys (Samuel Joslin, Oakless Pendergast). You could, if you wanted, carp at aspects of the film – such as the filmmakers’ box-office-friendly emphasis on the plight of Westerners rather than locals – but having chosen to highlight one particular story from the tsunami tragedy, Bayona handles it with commendable skill and sensitivity.

And in doing so he’s produced a film that is both epic and intimate (Watts’ Oscar-nominated performance, in particular, is an emotional and physical tour de force). The Impossible takes the breath away with its powerful restaging of the catastrophe; but if the wave’s visceral impact knocks you off your feet then it’s the story’s emotional undertow that sweeps you away.

Released on Blu-ray & DVD by Entertainment One on Monday 6th May.

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