Review: “Unbroken” Is Hard To Watch
Director: Angelina Jolie
Screenwriter: Joel Coen (screenplay), Ethan Coen (screenplay), Richard LaGravenese (screenplay), William Nicholson (screenplay), and Laura Hillenbrand (book)
Principal Cast: Jack O’Connell, Takamasa Ishihara, Finn Wittrock, Domhnall Gleeson, Finn Wittrock, Garrett Hedlund, and Jai Courtney
There is a set of people out there in the media that believe we are nearing the end of the era of movie stars. The idea is that there used to be a group of people that could get a full theater opening weekend on their name alone. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case anymore and frequently those stars are forced to either retire or move onto different areas of the business. Sometimes it works really well; Ben Afleck’s directing debut has earned him a Best Picture Oscar for Argo and his previous two movies, Gone Baby Gone and The Town have both received very high praise. George Clooney attempted to do a similar transition earlier this year with The Monuments Men which was okay, but did not catapult Clooney to the director A-list. Angelina Jolie is now attempting to make the jump as well after her first attempt, In the Land of Blood and Honey, did not do well.
Unbroken is extremely hard to watch, the true story of a World War II war hero that is masterfully acted, and while Jolie might not be Oscar calibre yet she displays a natural talent that, with time, could develop into a great director.
Our story follow the true life account of Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell). Louis grew up in an Italian immigrant family and had a hard time adjusting when he was younger, until his older brother Pete (Alex Russell), gave him purpose; running. Louis went to the Olympics in Germany in 1936 just as the Nazi party was rising to power. Several years later Louis is in the war against Germany. While he is stationed he must suffer through being shipwrecked for almost two months, a prisoner of war, and torture at the hand of a Japanese officer named Mutsushiro Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara).
I’ve seen a lot of movies this year since I started reviewing (nearly) full time, and this one has been one of the hardest for me to watch. The movie runs at a punishing two and a half hours long, and the overlong running time and sluggish pace are intentional. It’s supposed to make the viewer feel what Louis felt, which is the slow slug of one bad thing after another happening. We watch as Louis and the men he is shipwrecked with, Mac (Finn Wittrock) and Phil (Domhnall Gleeson), are nearly rescued and then aren’t. We watch as sharks circle them day after day, night after night, waiting for them to die. We watch as he is tortured and abused in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during the worst times. This truly is a difficult movie to watch, and I’m a little surprised it only walked away with a PG-13 because this was infinitely harder for me to watch than any gore splattered R fest I’ve seen this year.
A lot of credit must be given to O’Connell who gives 120% of himself to this role. This is an absolutely stunning performance from an actor that hasn’t really gotten the chance to shine before this moment. O’Connell is going to be a force to reckoned with as he hones his craft as he is young (twenty four), and he if he continues to improve he’ll be walking away with some awards either later in life or possibly for this performance. Ishihara is the other standout and manages to be an absolutely fantastic villain. There are a few moments where he steps over the line and goes into the realm of almost being a little cartoony, but he plays the role so perfectly that the moment you realize that Watanabe has taken an interest in Louis, any moment they make eye contact is terrible. There is some great supporting work from Gleeson and Wittrock during the moments the three of them are lost at sea, but this is an one man show with O’Connell and Ishihara backing him up once he enters the movie.
Angelina Jolie has been getting a lot of hype for this movie ever since her first directing feature did not do that well. I must admit I haven’t seen In The Land Of Blood and Honey, but if this is an indication of what Jolie has to offer as a director then we have plenty to look forward to in the future. During Unbroken Jolie focuses on making sure we understand the scope of everything, such as the large shots of Louis, Mac, and Phil, as they float out in the middle of the ocean. The entire “lost at sea” scene has some masterful tension building, and by the time the tension snapped I jumped more than I have in most horror movies this year. Jolie makes sure we understand how much time has passed and what Louis is going through, and makes the long running time feel even worse as we wait for Louis to catch some sort of break.
Now, the directing is not award worthy by a long shot, and Jolie doesn’t quite have the natural talent of Afleck, but she has enough of a base that, with some work, she could be great. I’m a huge advocator of women in directing, so I would very much like to see Jolie continue to hone her craft and improve. She has the talent to be great, and with a few more movies under her belt she could be a great director. While I was sad when I found out that she was planning on leaving acting to direct full time, now I’m quite alright with it. There was a chance that Unbroken could have been a mess from a directing standpoint, but Jolie has the talent to make it very good.
She also had some great back up by the great Coen brothers helming her screenplay. I was quite pleased to see that they had written this script, and they did a great job with making the dialogue fluid and believable while also making the choice to tell the story in the order that they did. The movie begins with Louis during his service, flashes back to his time as a child and an Olympian, and once he is lost at sea there aren’t anymore flashbacks. It’s a great way to open the movie and grab our attention while giving us the backstory to Louis that we need to get invested.
Unbroken is one of the hardest movies of the year to make it through, but a great leading performance by Jack O’Connell and a fairly good directing job by Angelina Jolie make it a must watch, as long as you have the stomach for it. Lous’ life was not easy and the movie doesn’t make it an easier to watch which is a good thing. Unbroken is absolutely worth a look.