Unbroken fails to create emotional investment in historic tale
Some lives are even better than fiction. Louis Zamperini, an Olympian and World War II prisoner of war, lived a ripe for the big-screen treatment kind of life. Unbroken — the film based on Zamperini’s trials — should go beyond the headlines and a quick Google search to offer a personal, intimate glimpse of a man faced with incredible odds, but it’s too distant and lacks the heart to get you fully invested.
It’s easy to see why Director Angelina Jolie (In the Land of Blood and Honey (Two-Disc Blu-ray/DVD Combo) was so drawn to Zamperini’s story. After a surprising performance in the 1936 Olympics, Louis enlists in the Air Force in 1941.
Two years later, he’s a bombardier battling the Japanese when a plane crash causes him to get lost at sea for 47 days. His situation gets worse though as he’s taken prisoner by the Japanese Navy until the end of the war.
Jolie is so reverent of Zamperini that the film version portrayed by Jack O’Connell (300: Rise of an Empire) is more of an ideal than a fully-fleshed out character and isn’t as personal as this type of biopic demands in providing a meaningful connection to the characters.
The script, passed through two drafts before Joel and Ethan Coen provided a rewrite, offers little insight inside Louis’ thoughts. Early flashbacks don’t accomplish their typical purpose in revealing important character-defining moments beyond a rudimentary catchphrase during Louis’ childhood. The adult years prove even less helpful as the Coens opt to leave most of Louis’ thoughts unspoken.
Curiously, the film leaves out some of the elements that would help explain Louis’ character like his thoughts on World War II as an Italian immigrant, Adolf Hitler wanting to meet him after his Olympic run and his post-war exploits as a Christian inspirational speaker.
O’Connell is serviceable and is commendably dedicated to the role’s physical demands, but he doesn’t get that one scene to effectively stand out.
The film’s real breakout performance is provided by Miyavi, who offers a cruel and sinister take as Mutsushiro ‘The Bird’ Watanabe, the unpredictably vicious prison warden obsessed with breaking Louis. Domhnall Gleeson and Finn Wittrock have solid supporting roles as Louis’ fellow stranded soldiers.
The film’s pacing is also problematic. Jolie is enamored with Louis’ suffering and devotes too much time on showing him get beaten down time and again. It gets to the point where victim fatigue sets in and you’re numb to Louis’ suffering since it feels like that’s the extent of the movie.
Jolie stages impressive action sequences throughout as she has a keen sense of how to maximize suspense and thrills particularly the dogfights and the lost at sea portions. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is stunning with a number of strong visuals and Alexandre Desplat’s score hits all the right marks of a serious award contender.
Unbroken feels a bit too calculated in terms of hitting all those year-end award benchmarks, but it lacks the heart and emotional connection to truly be a can’t miss film.
Rating: 4 out of 10