Editor’s Notes: Unbroken opens wide Christmas Day.
The inspirational story at the centre of the often times harrowing Unbroken has almost been overshadowed by the presence of the director at the helm. Having been directed by one of Hollywood’s hottest properties has almost distracted from this true story of the endurance of human strength and spirit. Despite a trailer campaign that hammers the point home that this could potentially have people weeping and fist pumping the air about overcoming horrendous adversity, the real drawcard is that Tinseltown royalty Anglina Jolie was behind the lens. While it is not her directorial debut, Unbroken has arrived with far more fanfare about her involvement, implying that this is something that we will be impressed by. While the story is one of those “stranger than fiction” deals that has all the ingredients to be a rip roaring hit with audiences, it is told with a lack of personality from its storyteller.
While the story is one of those “stranger than fiction” deals that has all the ingredients to be a rip roaring hit with audiences, it is told with a lack of personality from its storyteller.
Abused as a child by his peers for being the son of Italian immigrants, Louise Zamperini has a rough start in life. But after a few motivational words from his older brother, he went on to excel in athletics and became an Olympian in distance running. His athletic career was cut short when World War II broke out and he was sent off to battle. While flying over the Pacific Ocean, the plane he was in was shot down and he and three of his brothers in arms managed to survive a gruelling 47 days in raft only to be rescued by the enemy. Once picked up by a Japanese ship, the men were taken to a prisoner camp in which Zamperini was targeted and singled out by his captor, the cruel Mutsushiro Watanabe and forced to endure endless torturous actions.
Jolie wants us to emerge from this movie inspired, in awe and with the affirmation that we can overcome adversity. That is all well and good. Perhaps she feels audiences could do with another reminder. However with an already long list of existing films with a similar theme and sentiment, she fails to demonstrate why this one in particular should stand out, or why we should take her as seriously behind the camera as we have done while she is in front of it. Her efforts are sincere but the result is merely competent. This is heavy on the inspirational but light on the innovative.
The script, which was tinkered with by the Coen brothers, feels awfully familiar. Large sections of the story inspire comparisons to 12 Years A Slave and Life Of Pi (without the tiger). In those films it was important that the story not shy away from the torture and injustices experienced by Solomon Northup in 12 Years or leave the life raft inhabited by Pi. Unbroken takes the same approach and yet feels like an amalgamation of both stories, without creating much of an identity of its own. Key lines of dialogue that work perfectly as pull quotes encapsulate the theme in not so subtle catchphrases, offering as little subtlety as the scenes of torture.
Key lines of dialogue that work perfectly as pull quotes encapsulate the theme in not so subtle catchphrases, offering as little subtlety as the scenes of torture.
Jolie’s film looks terrific, the sets are authentic and Roger Deakins cinematography lovely to watch, but this is hardly a film that makes a mark for the actress, being her directorial equivalent of acting vehicles Beyond Borders or Taking Lives which also failed to leave a lasting impression
Where Jolie leaves much to be desired in her direction, the actors make up for it, being the driving force that keeps us watching. The handsome Jack O’Connell’s looks are deteriorated as does his weight in some astonishing skin on bone imagery. But it is more than just the physical that can be commended, as he must occasionally grapple with less than stellar dialogue, he creates a character we want to root for and see come out of this the other end. He is matched by Takamasa Ishihara, who brings a chilling evil with a hint of vulnerability to his underdeveloped character Watanabe.
With relying too heavily on the events and not enough on what makes this story unique, Jolie delivers a watchable if sometimes empty personal journey of one man. Had this delved further into Zamperini’s psyche rather than just have him be a punching bag for 90 minutes and scaled back on the “look how inspirational this story is” angle, Unbroken could have been something that buried its way into our minds, instead of skimming along the surface.
With relying too heavily on the events and not enough on what makes this story unique, Jolie delivers a watchable if sometimes empty personal journey of one man.