Summit Entertainment
PEOPLE Movie Critic Alynda Wheat
January 04, 2013 01:15 PM

At the very least, The Impossible will make you want to grab your loved ones and never let them go. It could also turn a sensitive viewer – and who isn’t, in these troubling days? – into a ball of anxiety.

The movie (in theaters now) stars Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor and tells the true story of the Belon family, who were on a Christmas vacation in Thailand when they were torn apart by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that claimed more than 200,000 souls.

After days of laughing in the sun and splashing in the surf, Maria (Watts), Henry (McGregor) and their three boys are lounging at the beachside pool when the sea reaches up to snatch everything in its wake. (The stunning scene easily rivals Flight‘s plane crash or Life of Pi‘s sinking ship among recent jaw-dropping on-screen disasters.)

The deluge leaves Maria horribly gashed, clinging to her eldest son, Lucas (impressive newcomer Tom Holland), as water and debris smash into them. Neither knows what’s become of Maria’s husband, Henry, and their littlest boys. Their tale of survival is equal parts will, luck and the kindnesses of many strangers.

Watts and McGregor give performances that are inspiring and heartbreaking at the same time. It’s difficult to watch a film so intense, but you’ll be glad you did.

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