Unbroken

Unbroken photo starrating-3stars.jpgDrama based on the life of World War II American prisoner of war survivor, Louis Zamperini. Actress Angelina Jolie directs her 2nd feature based on the best selling biography of the same name by Laura Hillenbrand. Jolie pulls out all the stops in this gorgeously produced biopic in the classic Hollywood tradition. There’s stunning cinematography courtesy of Roger Deakins. A beautiful score by Alexandre Desplat. And let’s not forget the script. Unbroken features a screenplay attributed to no less than four writers(!): Joel & Ethan Cohen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson. Every single one a heavyweight in Hollywood. This is a stately, beautifully photographed, well acted spectacle.

Louis Zamperini was a first generation Italian American. His parents spoke no English when he came to the U.S. and the culture clash he dealt with was difficult for him at school. He sought solace in athletics where he excelled in running. He became so exceptional that he qualified for the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. In 1941 he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. Two years after that, engine failure caused his B-24 to crash in the South Pacific. 8 of the 11 men on board died. Zamperini and two of his crewmates survived. Their rubber raft drifted with no land in sight for 47 days. In time, the survivors were captured and imprisoned by the Japanese Navy. Director Angelia Jolie details all these events and more. It’s never anything less than a handsomely mounted tribute that honors the perseverance of a hero.

And ultimately that is what keeps it from being something vital. It’s hard not to regard this pedantic film as anything more than just a respectful history lesson. The picture opens with a bang with some spectacular aerial photography of B24 bombers in flight. We flash back to an earlier time. Key aspects of Zamperini’s early life are highlighted and we see everything that led up to his enlistment. That all works as the developments move at a brisk pace. Once their plane fails and they are set adrift at sea, it becomes a bit plodding, but still interesting enough. It’s when our lead is taken captive by the Japanese that the narrative loses its way. There Zamperini must contend with Mutsuhiro Watanabe (Miyavi) the Imperial Japanese Army sergeant at the prison. Nicknamed “The Bird”, he is a most peculiar fellow. A fey personality who takes an instant dislike to him. Miyavi was a complete unknown to me but I found his mannered performance almost anachronistic for the period setting. Small surprise when I discovered he’s actually a famous pop singer in his native Japan. There’s much to recommend here, but at over two hours the production taxes the viewer’s patience after a while. Let’s just say, Unbroken is worth watching once and then never again.

12-02-14

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15 Responses to “Unbroken”

  1. I have never known what to think of Jolie as a director. With ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’ she was intent on berating the audience with grueling sequences of historically-factual violence. As an actress I find her pretty compelling actually, despite how easy it is to nay-say against her. So I go into this with lukewarm expectations. But I’m glad it gets a passing grade over here. I’m inspired by your enthusiasm.

    • “…berating the audience with grueling sequences of historically-factual violence.”

      This is a brilliant line because it applies perfectly to the final third of Unbroken as well.

      I agree she’s far more compelling as an actress. Despite its flaws, Maleficent was an entertaining watch because of her.

      P.S. Historically the Golden Globes have had a love affair with Jolie. I mean they nominated her performance in The Tourist! So how to explain the across the board snub of this film AND her work in Maleficent?

  2. The promotion on this movie has been absolutely horrible. Unless it isn’t a mainstream release like her last film. Regardless, I only found out about it two days ago. I usually like Prison movies so it kind of sucks that this gets plodding. Great review!

  3. I wasn’t expecting this movie to be that great from the trailer, but I’m still jealous you saw it before the rest of us did. 🙂

  4. This looks like pure awards bait based on the trailers. I’m not interested in seeing this. Nice review.

  5. I enjoyed this movie. Zamperini was a USC Trojan so I respected him already. I would have liked more of his happy life to balance all the torture we saw. Great job Angelina. 3 stars.

  6. I agree that the cinematography in this film is stunning. Roger Deakins does amazing work. I can’t believe he doesn’t have an Oscar yet. Technically it’s well shot and I thought the acting was okay, but my problem with this film is that it lacks enthusiasm. Like you say, “It’s never anything less than a handsomely mounted tribute that honors the perseverance of a hero.” Its dutiful and tells a story that deserves to be told, however it lacked dramatic tension for me even during scenes that should be riveting. I also think that the narrative loses its way once Zamperini is taken captive by the Japanese. One thing I think would have made for excellent drama would have been seeing him return to Japan when he was older to run the Olympic torch. There could have been a lot of rich drama there.

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