Tsunami: The Aftermath Movie Review

As its title suggests, HBO Films' Tsunami: The Aftermath begins not with a crashing wave of water but rather with something far more chilling. A boatload of vacationing scuba divers returns to their Phuket resort after a morning outing on December 26, 2004 and notice all sorts of debris, and then bodies, in the water. At the dock they see that the entire landscape is destroyed, the hotel is in ruins, and everyone, including their families and friends, is gone. As they run through the wreckage screaming, you'll feel chills.

Among the group is Susie Carter (Sophie Okonedo), who quickly reunites with her husband Ian (Chiwetel Ejiofor) but is devastated to learn their four-year-old daughter slipped out of her father's arms and has disappeared. Meanwhile, Kim Peabody (Gina McKee) has lost her husband but finds her teenage son horribly injured.

The British Consul Tony Whittaker (Hugh Bonneville) rushes in from Bangkok accompanied by a scrappy aid worker named Kathy (Toni Collette) and finds himself utterly unable to provide what his stranded countrymen need. Hot on his heels is muckraking gonzo journalist Nick Fraser (Tim Roth) and his photographer sidekick Chai (Will Yun Lee) who zip around on a motorcycle with sidecar looking for stories. The Thai perspective comes from Than (Samrit Machielsen), a young hotel worker who aids guests even as he realizes his own nearby village (and everyone in it) is probably gone.

The multiple storylines bounce off each other as the chaotic days following the tsunami unfold. For Ian and Susie, terror morphs into panic as they race around looking for their daughter. Susie can't help but cruelly blame Ian for "losing" their daughter, and he heads off on a frantic search of temples, hospitals, and morgues looking for information. Susie, on the other hand, is nearly catatonic with horror. Kim worries that her son will die from his injuries but faces the ineptitude of Tony and his consulate, while Kathy does what she can to help and also tends to the Thai community.

Nick is outraged to discover that Buddhist monks are burning bodies that haven't been identified, and in one of many East-vs.-West cultural clashes, Chai explains the Buddhist attitude toward death and urges Nick, who's firing off angry news bulletins to Europe, to accept those differences. Than eventually returns to his ruined village and takes his grandmother's cherished bracelets only to be arrested for looting even as he watches a secret government land grab unfold. Will a megaresort sweep in and steal his village's beach? Nick is soon on the story.

That's a lot of plot (the film runs over three hours), but the stories speed along in gripping fashion. The question of whether Ian and Susie will find their daughter alive is the most dramatic throughline, and Okenedo and Ejiofor, who turn in Golden Globe-nominated performances, are outstanding. It's as if they're acting out their own little Beckett psychodrama in the midst of all this chaos. (Collette earned a Golden Globe nomination as well.) With each plot line, you'll appreciate writer Abi Morgan's rigorous avoidance of clichéd happy endings. This is tough stuff.

But it's the production designers who really deserve the trophies. Tsunami looks fantastic, and the making-of featurette is essential viewing for anyone who's curious about how the team went in to recreate devastation that the community had just spent more than a year cleaning up. When the monks burn the bodies and when Kim and Ian make terrifying trips to the morgue, you can almost smell the stench. It makes you feel like you are there... and glad you weren't.

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Steven S's picture

Steven S

Watching the movie as a victim of the Tsunami obviously invokes some comments. It is understood that the film makers may had to balance between documenting the event as realistic as possible, while making it attractive for the public to watch. A few things I felt were a bit beside the reality:First of all in the movie you see the victims often alone with what was left of their families. On the contrary we experienced the Thai being extremely helpful and compassionate. Many Thai and other volunteers accompanied and assisted victims day and night. It even appeared that the Thai put the foreigners before their own interest. There was no trace of that in the film, yet many accounts of the victims have mentioned it. Another thing that surprised me in the film was that some officials (foreign relief workers, embassy staff) appeared inflexible in helping victims. In reality I was impressed how everyone on the ground tried to help, even if it was not within their usual scope of control. People worked harmoniously together and there was never raising of voices. It was more the overseas help organizations that took a long time before they realized that unconditional help was needed. Certain procedures were blocking effective help. I believe it will be the same in any disaster situation: people on the ground, who witness it with their own eyes, usually do what their heart tells them to do. I understand that the film makers had to make it a bit more interesting for the audience by demonstrating procedural obstructions. The film does not portray how the Thai changed into relief mode instantly after the Tsunami. Everything started to organize by itself. Search operations, medical help etc. became available immediately. We were touched how on two occasions Thai officials visited every patient in the hospital to pay respect and share their true sorrow. The arguments between Susie and Ian I find quite explicit. Without actually voicing out their feelings, the audience might have understood them anyway. I appreciate the set of the film: they made a good effort to make it resemble what it looked like just after the Tsunami hit.

7 years 2 months ago
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Tsunami: The Aftermath Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 2006

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