Sunday, 27 January 2013
The challenge for this kind of film, which is almost a docudrama - with the heavy emphasis on the drama - is to re-present an event that became so familiar through extensive media coverage that we see it in a fresh and engaging way. This film succeeds. The camera action and acting deliver an engaging and compelling story of human struggle against the brutal forces of nature. It is well paced and maintains a high degree of suspense throughout as each successive part of the journey of struggle unfolds.
The story centres on a family arriving at a Thailand beach resort on Christmas Eve to enjoy a luxury Christmas in an exotic paradise. On Boxing Day the paradise becomes a living and watery hell as the tsunami inundates the low-lying coastline. For too many it became their watery grave.
In the opening moments, viewers are told that this is a true story. How much this purely documents their story, perhaps only the family can say. There are passages of the story telling which are 'arty' and very creative. The actors must have spent a significant amount of time in the water tanks and the camera work of swirling debris and bodies under the water are innovative and strangely captivating. With any film like this there will always be questions about how 'true' it is and how much artistic licence has been taken.
Mum, dad and their three young sons get separated in the devastation and the question that is exquisitely maintained through tension and suspense is, whether or not they will all be reunited and will they survive? Dad, portrayed by Ewan McGregor manages to capture the sense of helpless desperation and despair felt by someone who is usually at the top of their game in the professional and family spheres and who suddenly finds themselves not in control. A tsunami has the effect of levelling everyone and the basic need for survival kicks in - that and the need to find the missing members of your family.
Naomi Watts turns in a stunning performance, worthy of an awards nomination. The eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland) also turns in a strong performance but his younger siblings don't quite match up - which is perfectly understandable given the heavy-duty nature of the story.
In the midst of the desperation and seeming hopelessness there are chinks of light that restore faith in human nature. Whether it be the self-sacrifice and hard work of local villagers helping injured tourists get medical attention or the over-worked and under-resourced medical staff performing miracle after miracle, the heart is well and truly tugged. The biggest tugs come when children are reunited with a parent after days of separation. The sense of lost-ness and sheer shock are caught wonderfully by the other actors and hundreds of extras. Often young children encounter and are forced to glimpse things that not even adults should have to face. The aftermath of such a disaster is truly harrowing.
I found this to be a gripping and compelling film. It is not easy viewing but ultimately I found it to be uplifting. It is almost a film of two halves. The first belongs to mum and is totally gripping and graphic. The second half belongs to dad and is less dramatic, although no less well acted or shot. I wonder if the film might have been stronger had the two stories been more intertwined and edited together? With strong acting and great Direction and camera work, this film deserves to be seen. It stands as a triumph to those who survived and as a memorial to those who didn't. I'll give it 8/10.