Unbroken is deliberate, methodical, a little dull
Directed by: Angelina Jolie
Written by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, William Nicholson
Based on: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
Starring: Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Miyavi, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock
Release date: December 25, 2014
Rated PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language
Unbroken is a remarkable story that has many things going for it, but it also has a great big weight tying it down. The film itself is extremely well made, but the narrative is overburdened with maintaining a high bar for historical accuracy. The result is not unlike a Honda Accord, well made, reliable, a little dull. I am a little frustrated with this film honestly, because it did not have to be dull. This is where that historical accuracy comes into play. Historical events are frequently interesting, fascinating even, but they are rarely entertaining. I believe Joel and Ethan Coen, who were brought in to re-write the script, simply didn’t balance the scale, something I know they are capable of doing because they did a great job with Inside Llewyn Davis. I should also say there was a miscalculation from director Angelina Jolie in failing to recognize a lifeless third act. Outside that third act, the film is actually incredible, but having been denied a climax, I left the theatre still seeking closure that the postscript didn’t provide.
Louie Zamperini (C.J. Valleroy), the son of first generation Italian immigrants was a troublemaker when he was a kid; the police regularly brought him home. Until his older brother, Pete (John D’Leo) pushed him into joining the school track team, where Louie excelled. At the age of 17, Louie (Jack O’Connell) set a world interscholastic record for the mile, and by the age of 19, he had qualified for the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. After his time as an Olympian Louie enlisted in the US Army Air forces where he was deployed to the Pacific as a bombardier of a B-24 called Super Man. After Super Man was damaged, Zamperini was reassigned to The Green Hornet to fly search and rescue missions. On May 27th 1943, the defective B-22 crashed into the pacific, killing all but three, Zamperini, pilot Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips (Domhnall Gleeson) and Francis “Mac” McNamara (Finn Wittrock). After 47 days, they were picked up by the Japanese Navy and are placed into a POW camp where Zamperini becomes the favorite target of Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe (Miyavi). Wantabe brutally torments Zamperini through the remaining two and a half years of the war.
This film was intense, at times difficult to watch due to the realism on display. The pacing was deliberate and methodical. The only thing keeping this from being an amazing film is the lost opportunity for character development, and the loss of resolution in the third act. For example, Zamperini’s time in Berlin was overlooked. It would have served to fill out his character to include anecdotes such as meeting Adolf Hitler, and stealing his personal flag. These stories could have easily been told while they were adrift at sea, or through flashbacks, which they already used more than once. While I understand the difficulty in addressing conflict resolution when historically the conflict was never resolved between Wantabe and Zamperini, there should have been more than just the postscript after the film ended. Maybe I just felt like this was unresolved because once Zamperini entered the POW camps his dialogue slowed to a crawl, and very nearly stopped altogether, while that is a fantastic dramatic choice, it all but stops character development.
Louis Zamperini’s story is incredible, but Unbroken only captures this in a limited scope. I had to pick up the book and do my own research to fully appreciate what happened. I am impressed with Jolie as a director, and the way she handled this material. In spite of the problems I saw with the film, and the weight of the story, I enjoyed this film a great deal.