Tuesday, 13 January 2015


Universal Pictures

Few films have been as anticipated, talked about and touted for awards success this past year as Angelina Jolie's Unbroken. The actress's second film as director sees her tackling the life of Louis Zamperini, one-time US Olympic athlete and Japanese POW camp survivor, as detailed in Laura Hillenbrand's extensive biography (adapted here by four writers including the Coen brothers).

Yet with a run-time of 137-minutes, Unbroken focuses only on Zamperini's war service, with flashbacks to his childhood and then the 1936 Berlin Olympics (he turned to running to channel his delinquent energy), and even then we don't learn all that much about the man.

Serving as a bombadeer in the Pacific during WWII, Louis (Jack O'Connell) and his crew ditch in the ocean whilst on a rescue mission (and Jolie can certainly direct an action sequence). With two fellow survivors, Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) and Mac (Finn Wittrock), he spends the next 47 days adrift; fighting off starvation, thirst, enemy artillery fire, sharks and insanity before being picked up by a Japanese ship.

Taken to Tokyo, Zamperini would then spend the next two-and-a-half years -- and the rest of the war -- in a POW camp under the watchful and sadistic eye of Captain Watanabe (Miyavi, a Japanese rock star in his film debut). Known to the other prisoners as 'The Bird', Watanabe takes a keen interest in Zamperini, singling him out for brutal punishment when he's not courting his friendship.

It is this relationship which becomes the focus of Zamperini's imprisonment and not the standard WWII prison film staple of camaraderie with his fellow Allied prisoners. The POWs, which include Garrett Hedlund and Luke Treadaway, are never developed as fully-fleshed characters nor is Louis's attachment to them. His refusal to stay down or give in to his captors -- Christ-like in its climactic moment -- doesn't seem to earn his fellow inmates' respect organically, even as O'Connell's stoic central performance does the audience's.

Louis Zamperini may well have been an inspirational figure, both during the war and in his subsequent years where he delivered on a promise to serve God. But Unbroken, though occasionally stirring, is not an inspirational film; O'Connell, and Roger Deakins' cinematography can only do so much. Conversely, Alexandre Desplat's score strains for effect giving you the sense that Jolie is plucking nose hairs rather than heart strings.

The death of Zamperini in 2014 adds a certain poignancy to his story which may indeed be a great one. Unbroken, while a solid outing for Angelina Jolie - director, is not a great film.

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