This allows the film to be much more intimate, and the audience is quickly able to connect with the Bennett family, starting simply with their arrival to Thailand. While the audience was filled with dread in anticipation of what was to come, the Bennetts were blissfully unaware and enjoying themselves over vacation. However, everything soon takes a terrifying turn as the tsunami hits their resort in a horrifyingly realistic manner, sweeping up people as they attempt to flee before it or protect themselves from its awesome power.
At this point, I, too, felt like I was drowning. The camera bobs in and out of darkness, in and out of the water, as the family's matriarch, Maria, struggles for breath. Then, clinging hopelessly onto a palm tree, she screams all too realistically for anyone who could possibly help her in a desperate, surprisingly shocking moment. It is at this point where she spots her son, Lucas, floating in the fierce waves, and I held my breath as the struggled for what seemed like an eternity to reunite in the water.
In a way, Lucas, brilliantly portrayed by newcomer Tom Holland, carries the film from this point forward. He takes on the role of protecting his stubborn yet badly injured mother, and in the process he's forced to mature far too quickly. During every moment, his emotions and facial expressions convey more than any words ever could, as she shies away from and is frightened by his mother's injuries and nudity, all the while attempting to deal with the scope of the pain and devastation.
However, it is his mother, Maria, whom the film truly centers around. Naomi Watts gives quite possibly her finest performances to date, portraying harrowing desperation, stubborn determination in the face of incredible pain and agony, and, ultimately, a sense of love and care despite her deteriorating state. True, she is bedridden for about half the film, but it is during this time where there are these small moments of tenderness and humility which undoubtedly makes Watts's performance one of the best of the year.
In fact, the entire cast was exceptional, including Ewan McGregor, the father desperately trying to put together his family again, and the two littlest sons, Thomas, played by Samuel Joslin, and Simon, played by Oaklee Pendergast, both of whose innocence prevented them from thoroughly capturing the extent of this tragic event. The story of these three is intertwined with that of Maria and Lucas, as they all struggle for survive amidst the destruction and reunite amidst the chaos.
Ultimately, this is a touching and heartwarming film, as the true kindness of humanity can be seen in this time of great loss. Yes, the tsunami is terrifying, the injuries gruesome and shockingly realistic, and the pain and suffering visible on just about everyone's faces. However, the Bennetts' story is a remarkable one of love, determination, and hope, and it simply cannot be missed.