Film review by John Campbell
It has taken the horrendous tsunami of Boxing Day, 2004, longer than one might have expected to be dramatised for the screen.
Given that the wreckage and devastating loss of life that it brought occurred in ‘our’ region, it is even more surprising that it has finally arrived as a Spanish production. The movie is based on the book written by María Belón, a physician, who, with her husband and three sons, survived the disaster that struck while they were holidaying in Thailand. In this she is played with painstaking faithfulness by Naomi Watts, who has deservedly earned an Oscar nomination for her efforts.
But, unavoidably, a film of this nature is restricted by its subject matter. We know exactly what happened and only the most dim-witted would not expect for it to be a classic exercise in the ‘indomitable human spirit’ genre – and that is not meant as a criticism. Director Juan Antonio Bayona and scriptwriter Sergio G Sánchez have succeeded admirably in bringing the drama to life without bogging down in repetition or cheap sensationalism. Aided in no small way by the remarkable technology now available to filmmakers, the event itself and its mind-boggling aftermath are shot with horrifying realism.
Badly injured and separated from husband Henry (Ewan McGregor) and their two infant sons, María is shepherded to an overcrowded local hospital by her eldest boy Lucas (Tom Holland). Despite Watts’s heart-rending performance, it is Holland’s Lucas who rises to the occasion and, whether by design or not, becomes the focal character – his searching the wards for other victims’ relatives exposes the fragile thread that holds us to our own worlds.
There is, however, no sense of time – did all this happen over two or three days? A week? Certainly the unchanging bloodstains on Lucas’s arms and legs gave no indication. I took my hanky as insurance against a bawling conclusion, but the non-stop pathos had wrung out of me any uncontrollable urge to blub well before Mum, Dad and the kids were re-united.