A WWII Drama that is based upon the book “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption” by Laura Hillenbrand. Directed by Angelina Jolie, this adaptation tells the story of the American Long Distance and 1936 Olympian Louis “Louie” Zamperini as portrayed by Englishman Jack O’Connell. A 2014 December release, this is a watchable and affecting piece of populist entertainment. It’s also a long, yet condensed and fractured. It’s a singular feature that comes off as three movies bound together for an Oscar prize. UNBROKEN hits all the notes one would expect for movie to be honored with praise and awards, even if it did not receive any. Fortunately, Zamperini lived a life so fascinating that it’s almost not a concern about how good the movie itself really is. We see his humble beginnings as troubled youth who finds his way through life with track and field. Just that alone is enough for one movie. Yet UNBROKEN goes the distance by showing his enlistment in the Air Force, his crashing in the Pacific Ocean, the survival at sea, his capture by the Japanese forces and interment in a POW camp. The movie features some genuine PAPLLION aesthetics when it comes to seeing “Louie” Zamperini getting in and out of trouble. More specifically, when and how he can make himself scarce and deal with watchful eye of the prison guards. As well-crafted as these moments are The “Coming of Youth” and “Lost at Sea” sequence have a sense of familiarity. Everything becomes much more engaging when we are shown his life in Prisoner of War camp. That’s when he encounters Mutsuhiro Watanabe aka “The Bird”, the head of the Prison as portrayed by Japanese Pop Star Takamasa Ishihara aka Miyavi. From here on out, it is a Battle of the Wills. At first we see the soldiers in the barracks and are concluded in a forced labor camp. It’s grueling with its beating and taunting. “The Bird” was a prick and he played to the hilt by Takamasa. He is played a man who thrives off of the checkmated anger, fear and frustration of his prisoners. There is no other way to put it, the guy was a dick. The movie does not let the viewer forget that. Those are the moments when UNBROKEN really lives on its own.
Considering the subject matter, it’s almost impossible to make an entirely satisfying movie. At some point a story point or sub-plot is shortchanged. At one point Zamperini is allowed to address the U.S.A. through Japan’s radio propaganda. While he turns down lucrative offers while other soldiers are cashing in on comforts. Also his days as fighter piolet are as exciting as any other set piece or sequence that goes on. You get a sense of fragile and unsafe one was aboard the WWII era aircraft. Also the Coda regarding his Christian faith is also enough for its own movie. A recovering alcoholic, Zamperini spent years as a Christian bearing witness with evangelical crusades and had an association with Billy Graham. While that aspect may come off as a promo for Salam Radio Network, it does figure in his relationship with “The Bird”. Alas, UNBROKEN moves on to another chapter of life just as you become fully invested. The conclusion has the unfortunate knack of being a series of written epilogues that fade in and out. This, while over the video tape footage of him jogging in the Olympics in his 90s. It’s something I have seen too much in biopic movies such as RAY, AMERICAN SNIPER, THE IMITATION GAME, etc. Yes, it’s informative but it comes off as crammed.
As for Angelina Jolie, the director, she does a credible job handling the nuts and bolts action and male camaraderie. She must have observed a few things after appearing in SALT and TOMB RAIDER. The performances are pretty even keeled. Tim Squyres was the Editor as he was with LIFE OF PI. That may explain why the “Lost at Sea “sequence is so reminiscent of the Ang Lee opus. The acting and characters are in the interest of Zamperini’s story. UNBROKEN is also armed with a screenplay Richard La Gravenese (THE FISHER KING), William Nicholson (SHADOWLANDS) and revised by Joel and Ethan Coen. The Cinematography is courtesy of Roger Deakins, the visual ace behind the Coen Brothers, SKYFALL and JUSTINE (1977) with Koo Stark.