Naomi shows us once again how beautifully and honestly she can render tragedy into heroism. In the character of Maria, she shows us a woman who is both struggling with sacrificing a career for her three young sons and a longing for greater meaning.
There is a Christmas morning scene that feels devoid of family or the togetherness and becomes a free-for-all to open presents. The family is staying at a top resort surrounded by beauty and material wealth. All of these things experienced through the filter of Maria’s quiet emptiness and soul sickness. Naomi masterfully imparts Maria’s longing for something that not even she is able to articulate. Naomi does this in a look or a simple few words about her husband always being on his cell phone. She then turns her disappointment into a light-hearted laugh to cover her longing, to cast off any heaviness or discomfort. These things are subtle and nearly imperceptible to any other audience member, but to an actor they are admirable in their restraint, poise and intention.
What happens next is an epiphany through suffering. The scene with Naomi and her son (a fantastic Tom Holland) trying to survive in the torrents of the 2004 Thailand tsunami are heartbreaking, and we are swept up into the emotional honesty of a woman coming to terms with the loss of her children and family.
This is great and nearly impossible acting. Naomi takes us through this woman’s journey from modern malaise to the deepest and most meaningful parts of being human: our relationships to others in the world around us.
Naomi fills every moment onscreen with honesty and intention — one eye on the story and the other on credibility, and she is deeply in service to them both. She never backs away from what is difficult and she is never gratuitous or vain, which is incredibly refreshing and admirable. Naomi Watts is one of our acting treasures.