A co-production of HBO and the BBC, Tsunami: The Aftermath
puts a human face on the epic-scale disaster that struck the coasts of Thailand on December 26, 2004. The catastrophic aftermath of the history-making tsunami is impressively re-created as an otherworldly coastal zone of death and destruction, complete with such eerie sights as boats lodged into resort-hotel balconies and entire villages flattened by nature's wrath, but the real strength of this three-hour TV drama lies in its interwoven plot and characters (tourists and natives alike) whose lives were deeply and permanently changed in the wake of disaster. As directed by Bharat Nalluri and written by Abi Morgan, this well-made film drew justified criticism for weakening a factual disaster with fictional characters, but the story was so thoroughly researched (including interviews with survivors, etc.) that its very real human drama serves as an entry-point for viewer and characters alike to grapple with the almost unfathomable scale of the tsunami's destruction. Chiwetel Ejiofor (Inside Man
, Children of Men
) leads a large and excellent cast as Ian, a British tourist desperately searching for his missing 4-year-old daughter amidst the ruins of a devastated resort; he proceeds to help a young Thai waiter named Than (Samrit Machielsen) and is reunited with his wife (played by Hotel Rwanda
Oscar® nominee Sophie Okonedo), who wrestles with her own issues of guilt and estrangement. Their parental anguish becomes the film's wrenching heart and soul.
The story also follows several other characters including a jaded journalist (Tim Roth) investigating official mishandling of the tsunami threat; another tourist (Gina McKee) coping with her husband's death and a severely injured son; and a devoted aid worker (Toni Collette) who cuts through bureaucratic nonsense to help those in need. Through these excellent performances, Tsunami: The Aftermath gains strength as an engrossing study of tenacity, compassion, and survival amidst chaos. Would a real-life docudrama have been more dramatically effective? Perhaps, but as a worthy alternative, Tsunami brings complex humanity to a tragic event that can't be neatly summarized with statistics, interviews, and round-the-clock coverage on CNN. --Jeff Shannon