Synopsis: After a near-fatal plane crash in WWII, Olympian Louis Zamperini spends a harrowing 47 days in a raft with two fellow crewmen before he’s caught by the Japanese navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp
Stars: Jack O’Connell, Garrett Hedlund, Domhnall Gleeson, Finn Wittrock, Miyavi
Director: Angelina Jolie
Running Length: 127 minutes
Trailer Review: Here
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: I’m still kicking myself for not finishing Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling novel about the life of Louis Zamperini but time just got away from me. Unlike most films based on books that I’ve seen before reading the source material, the film treatment of Unbroken actually makes me want to go back and read the book.
The story of Zamperini’s fight for survival first on his 47 days on a raft in the ocean and then as a POW in WWII is the stuff that should have made for a movie with more impact than the one presented here on screen. With a script from Joel and Ethan Cohen (Inside Llewyn Davis) and Oscar-winner Angelina Jolie (Maleficent) in the director’s chair I really expected this to be more of a winner than it winds up being.
It’s a strange occurrence, really, because Jolie has herself a strong leading man (Jack O’Connell) handling the life-changing moments of Zamperini with a believable air of resilience and an unbelievable true-life story with a seemingly endless supply of emotional twists.
All through the film I kept waiting for a time when I was moved to feel something beyond what was being presented in the current scene. Several weeks after screening the film I’m still struggling to find where the film missed the mark or, perhaps, where I missed that moment.
Maybe it’s because aside from (and in addition to) O’Connell the rest of Jolie’s cast is filled with GQ-ready soldiers that look as if they were picked from an MTV casting session. With their chiseled jaw-bones, washboard abs, and hair that stays perfectly coiffed even after two months exposed to the elements, Jolie’s soldiers felt like play-actors rather than true face of WWII soldiers.
The central villain of the piece also fares poorly on screen with Miyavi (a rock star in Japan) playing his devious Japanese guard more like a Bond villain than the unyielding tyrant Zamperini encountered. Actually, Miyavi’s performance reminded me more of Jolie herself in Maleficent with his lines delivered in a soft purr that I’m guessing were intended to convey more of a sense of terror than they do.
On the production side, Unbroken’s atmosphere hits a bulls-eye. From the striking costumes of Louise Frogley (Flight) to the production design of the various camps Zamperini encounters to Roger Deakins (Skyfall) sumptuous cinematography to Alexandre Desplat’s (Godzilla) unobtrusive score the effect really makes you feel like you’re watching a film of that time and era. Even some muddled special effects somehow are forgivable.
Though I feel the film is missing a chunk of time to connect a few dots, it’s when we see the real Zamperini near the end when I felt that lump in my throat I’d been missing the last 120 minutes. Perhaps Unbroken would have been better served going the documentary treatment rather than a dramatized one. While it lacks overall impact and doesn’t exactly signal Jolie’s arrival as a significant director, it’s a story worth taking in. Reading the book may be a better option, though.