Unbroken: Film Review
Cast: Jack O'Connell, Domnhall Gleeson, Miyavi
Director: Angelina Jolie
The fact that after a gruelling 2 hours and 20 minutes director Angelina Jolie chose to end Unbroken with a Coldplay song (Miracles) speaks volumes to what she's trying (and just failing) to strive for here with this passion project.
Unbroken is the remarkably powerful (in parts) true story of Louis "Louie" Zamperini (Starred Up's Jack O'Connell) an immigrant whose fortunes changed for the worst when he was shot down during a 1943 bombing raid. With only two fellow survivors, the former Olympic athlete Zamperini survived 47 days lost at sea only to be rescued by the Japanese and thrown into a Prisoner of War camp and consequently brutalised by the guard's sneering commandant (Miyavi).
Aiming for inspirational but thanks to the over-use of bon mots such as "Forgive the sin, smile on the sinner" and "If I can take it, I can make it" (a couple of many sayings espoused rather thickly at the beginning), Unbroken is a curious beast, preferring to go for cliche and many war film tropes rather than demonstrate directorial flair.
The first half is unwisely consumed with Zamperini's running (something akin to Chariots of Fire as he pounds the track and trounces both the opposition and timings) and talking philosophy, cooking and religion while being lost at sea in a surreal spin on Life Of Pi. It's a move which nearly fatally derails the film; while the intention is clearly to demonstrate how Zamperini is a true survivor and was at his lowest when he was subjected to even more in the camps.
However, if Jolie had perhaps restrained that hour and peppered it more with flashbacks, it may have worked; particularly given how powerful and horrific some of the imagery she commands in the second half is, showing her eye for the gruesome detail.
It's ironic because the second half of Unbroken which focuses on Zamperini's internment is actually where the power of the film lies but the confines of the genre and the cliches come to the fore.
The real issue is the focus of the film - it's so squarely on Zamperini that nobody else gets a look in; the camp leader known as the Bird (played by Miyavi) is your dyed-in-the-wool bad guy and all those around Zamperini (colleagues, crew-members) are so lightly written and sketched that they barely register on the dramatic scale.
Thankfully, O'Connell continues to show why he's a fast rising star by giving Zamperini the pluck, resilience and humanity needed while enduring what he's had to. There's no denying that Louie suffered greatly and was denied the closure he needed as his war experiences accrued; and there's also no denying that O'Connell imbues his character with a much needed in point to help endure the occasionally over-wrought and lumpen drama.
I had wanted to leave Unbroken with a sense of inspiration; what I left feeling is that it was more a conventional war film that I had to endure in parts rather than salute the spirit of a man who suffered more than any human ever should.