“The greatest measure of the Nineteenth Century. Passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America.”
In Frank Capra’s classic movie Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939) a regular guy enters politics and is horrified by the corruption he witnesses. At his lowest ebb he considers quitting but finds new strength at the Lincoln Monument. Capra backlights Lincoln’s statue making it look God-like, a mythical figure. Interesting then to see Steven Spielberg’s biopic which presents Lincolnin an earthier fashion. A man who argues with his wife, tells jokes in company, and is more than capable of dealing with the complexities of political life. Tony Kushner’s screenplay begins in 1865 amongst the blood and chaos of the Civil War then follows Lincoln’s attempts over the next year to win the twenty votes he needs to force through the Thirteenth Amendment banning slavery.
Kushner previously collaborated with Spielberg on another historically based movie Munich (2005) about the Israeli hit squad seeking reprisals for the eleven murdered athletes at the 1972 Olympics. He is best known in the USfor his Pulitzer winning play Angels in America set at the height of the AIDS epidemic and his writing has a grittiness which counterpoints Spielberg’s tendency towards grand spectacle. Though epic in scale and length Lincoln takes place mostly indoors and concerns itself more with the backroom deals, political machinations, the compromises needed and sometimes cast aside for progress to be made. At the heart of the film is a towering performance from Daniel Day-Lewis, suggesting both the charisma of Lincolnand the greatness in the man which still makes him the most revered of all American Presidents.
“I will find them, I promise you that.”
The Impossible is based on the true story of the Alvaraz family and their incredible struggle to survive the Tsunami which devastated Thailand in 2004. Though the family’s nationality has been changed from Spanish to British the film is apparently a credible recreation of events. Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts play parents whose career worries fade into insignificance when they are separated from each other by the disaster. Henry (McGregor) is left with two of their boys, while eldest son Lucas (Tom Holland) is swept away with Maria (Watts).
Director Juan Antonio Bayano made his feature debut with the creepy horror film The Orphanage (2007) and you can see the influence of that genre here. Bayano builds tension with close-ups of everyday objects being used (a juice blender, a ball bouncing) that coupled together with the ominous music seem to act as portents. The first act makes it very clear the devastating the effects of the Tsunami hitting the resort and the sound design department captures every crunching noise as trees are snapped like twigs, buildings demolished, and people dragged underwater. Camerawork is often handheld and used to disorient the viewer.
It would be unfair to reveal any more except to say after this powerful opening sequence the film becomes a journey through a ruined landscape as the survivors come together and try to find their own folk. While Watts received an Oscar nomination for her performance and McGregor also impresses young Tom Holland steals the film as the resourceful Lucas. There is also a striking but all too brief appearance from Geraldine Chaplin as a kindly stranger. The Impossible is a powerful but ultimately rewarding viewing experience.
Written by Sergio G. Sánchez, Maria Bélon
Directed by Juan Antonio Bayano
Running time 114 mins