Another Oscar Season, another Hollywood biopic.
“Unbroken” tells the true tale of Louis Zamperini, a USA Olympic athlete who is taken prisoner by the Japanese in World War II after his plane goes down over the Pacific Ocean. Jack O’Connell stars as Zamperini and Japanese singer Miyavi plays the POW camp’s leader. Angelina Jolie directs as the Coen Brothers worked on the script.
The film takes place in essentially two locations: the ocean and the Japanese prison camp. Zamperini’s plane crashes over the ocean and he and two fellow soldiers (Domhnall Gleeson and Finn Wittrock) are adrift for 47 days. These scenes were my favorite of the whole film as they show the true perseverance of Zamperini, as well as feature some intense moments including several run-ins with sharks and enemy fighter planes. The score and cinematography really excel here as well.
When the group is “rescued” by the Japanese the film slows down, and never fully recovers. Zamperini is continuously beaten and tested by the camp’s leader, called “The Bird” by fellow prisoners, and these scenes become numbing after a while. I’m not saying the film should have overlooked or sugar-coated this part of Zamperini’s imprisonment, however after a while it seemed Jolie was just beating us over the head with the fact that torture happened in prison camps.
Zamperini is depicted as a womanizer and troubled child, and in real life this was true. While on the raft, Zamperini talks about how he may not believe in God, and then in a storm he promises to dedicate his life to God if He saves his life. While this is all in-line with the true story, the idea of God doesn’t play a part in the rest of the film until text comes up before the credits. The film’s poster brands the story to be about redemption, yet Jolie abandons this notion and replaces it with a man who can take a severe beating and show no bruises in the next scene. Instead of Louis’ spiritual redemption we just see him as a superhero that is capable of taking extreme physical punishment, and I didn’t feel this worked.
The climax itself is a catch-22. Because it is the final confrontation between Louis and The Bird, the scene should be empowering and moving, as well as have tension because if Louis fails, he is ordered to be shot. The acting in the scene is superb, with Zamperini showing his strength and The Bird trying his hardest to break him. Both actors say more with their eyes than their words, and the duo add something extra to the scene.
The problem is that the scene has no sense of time, and you are unsure if the incident has lasted five minutes or several hours. Characters are standing around watching the event unfold, and any tension you should be feeling is instead replaced with confusion.
“Unbroken” isn’t as moving as it could have been, but it is a well-intentioned biopic that features solid performances and some intense scenes. Had Jolie known how to properly manage the narrative and hadn’t felt the need to show the torture simply for the sake of showing torture, then perhaps it could have been something great. Instead it is a good movie about a great man who had an amazing story.
Critics Rating: 7/10