Watts and McGregor 'superb' in tsunami film The Impossible

Astonishing effects and great performances leave audiences white-knuckled and teary-eyed

LAST UPDATED AT 07:33 ON Wed 2 Jan 2013

What you need to know
The disaster drama The Impossible, from Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona, tells the true story of a family's experience of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The real family were Spanish, but are portrayed as English in the film, which stars Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts.

The film shows the family on a Christmas vacation in Thailand, at a tropical resort, before their idyllic vacation is interrupted by the devastating tsunami and becomes a desperate struggle for survival.

What the critics like
With simplicity and conviction, The Impossible manages to be something other than a conventional disaster movie, says Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. It conveys the agony of survival with judgment and intelligence and Ewan McGregor "delivers a performance with a sledgehammer emotional punch".

It's a "rousing, superbly acted, no-holds-barred melodrama", says Guy Lodge in Empire. It's also "a mighty feat of physical film-making". The crashing, crushing impact of the tsunami is evoked by an "astonishing sensory assault".

Bayona has an "uncanny, Hitchcockian gift" for audience manipulation, says Benjamin Secher in the Daily Telegraph. "You don't so much watch his films as get pulled along by them, white-knuckled and teary-eyed."

What they don't like
While Bayona's staging of the tidal wave and its aftermath is extraordinary and terrifying, his focus on one family reduces the plight of thousands of Thais to mere set dressing, says Nigel Floyd in Time Out. The film is also "littered with contrivances and coincidences which undermine its credibility". · 

For further concise, balanced comment and analysis on the week's news, try The Week magazine. Subscribe today and get 6 issues completely free.