Director: Angelina Jolie
Screenplay: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson, based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand
Cast: Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Miyavi, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock, Jai Courtney, John Magaro, Luke Treadaway, Alex Russell, John D’Leo, Vincenzo Amato, Ross Anderson, C.J. Valleroy, Maddalena Ischiale
Running Length: 137 minutes
Synopsis: Unbroken is an epic drama that follows the incredible life of Olympian and war hero Louis “Louie” Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) who, along with two other crewmen, survived in a raft for 47 days after a near-fatal plane crash in WWII – only to be caught by the Japanese Navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.
Adapted from Laura Hillenbrand’s popular book, Unbroken brings to the big screen Zamperini’s unbelievable and inspiring true story about the resilient power of the human spirit.
Review: Unbroken is a very, very well-made film, excelling in its technical aspects and honestly quite an achievement for second-time director Jolie, who had embarked on making a second war-related movie after her little-seen directorial debut (2011’s In the Land of Blood and Honey). However, the film also feels sterile and perfunctory, lacking heart and a deeper emotionality, despite an excellent performance by newcomer Jack O’Connell. And even though it already runs over two hours, there’s this sense of incompleteness, that there’s a bigger story to be told of what happened to Zamperini after his traumatic ordeal, which deserves more than a few seconds worth of title cards before the end credit crawl.
Louie Zamperini’s life story is an incredible one – in a short span of years, he goes from Olympic athlete to an army officer surviving a plane crash, being stranded almost fifty days at sea on a life raft, followed by more than two years of torture and suffering in various POW camps. Based on Laura Hillenbrand’s biography of Zamperini, Unbroken tells a mostly straight tale, but Jolie chooses not to touch on the lighter aspects of his life. Zamperini was a born leader and apparently devised ways to make life more bearable for himself and his fellow inmates, but this is not covered in the film at all. Jolie instead focuses almost entire on the brutality that Zamperini endured, which makes the narrative more one-sided than it should be. There’s also no redemptive arc in the film, even though it is a significant portion of the biography, which mutes the impact of Unbroken further.
Performances of the ensemble cast are almost uniformly good, with the exception being Miyavi, who plays Zamperini’s sadistic tormentor Mutsushiro “The Bird” Watanabe, who hams it up a little too much and becomes more caricaturish than truly evil. Jack O’Campbell is a relatively fresh face, but manages to take on both the physical and emotional aspects of the role well. It is a difficult role to undertake, but he manages to give an excellent performance, not just in the big moments, but even in the small nuances of action and movement in the quiet scenes.
Jolie had assembled a highly proficient team of technicians for Unbroken, from the Coen Brothers being involved in the script, to Alexandre Desplat for the scoring and Roger Deakins in cinematography. It all works admirably well, especially so for the stunning cinematography by Deakins (which has been aptly rewarded with a nomination in the upcoming Academy Awards), accompanied by excellent production design by Jon Hutman. However, she may still have bitten off a bit more than she could chew with Unbroken as a sophomore effort, resulting in a somewhat lopsided movie that does not sufficiently engage.
Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)