**1/2 (out of 5)
December 25, 2014
Jack O’Connell as LOUIS ZAMPERINI
Domhnall Gleeson as PHIL
Garrett Hedlund as FITZGERALD
Takamasa Ishihara as WATANABE
Finn Wittrock as MAC
Jai Courtney as CUP
Directed by: Angelina Jolie
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
One of the hardest things about evaluating a film about an American hero is separating the story from the film that tells it. On one hand, the story of Louis Zamperini is wholly inspiring and amazing. The details of his life – not just what is presented in “Unbroken,” but also how things went after World War II for him – are pretty amazing.
On the other hand, the presentation of “Unbroken” is far from perfect and fails to hit a note of emotion that can resonate with a full audience.
“Unbroken” tells the true story of Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), an Italian immigrant who became an Olympic athlete. When World War II broke out, he joined the Army Air Force to fight. While on a mission, his plane was shot down in the Pacific, and he spent weeks marooned in the open ocean. Eventually, Zamperini and another survivor are rescued, only it turns out they’re rescued by the Japanese Navy and are immediately thrown into POW camps. Over the next two years, Zamperini must work to keep his hopes up and his spirit unbroken.
“Unbroken” is Angelina Jolie’s sophomore directing effort after the Bosnian war drama “In the Land of Blood and Honey.” She certainly seems to be drawn to the ravages of war from a variety of angles, but she also seems to be drawn to the survival during these traumatic times as well as the toils of them.
Overall, “Unbroken” is competently made, but it lacks any real punch that would raise it from a mediocre film to a truly great movie. Perhaps it is her inexperience to blame, but in the hands of a more seasoned dramatic director like Steven Spielberg, Ron Howard or Ridley Scott, Zamperini’s story could have been mind-blowing and powerful.
In Jolie’s hands, it’s pretty mundane. However, that doesn’t mean the movie is poorly done. The acting is good, aside from some clunky dialogue and the general existence of Jai Courtney. The cinematography looks great, which is to be expected at the hands of Roger Deakins. However, in a strange way, it looks too good.
With this film, Deakins famously tried out using digital photography rather than celluloid film, and that might have been a mistake. The crisp video image is almost too perfect. World War II films seem to look better on celluloid, for the period and grain. With the vivid digital look, “Unbroken” appears more to fall in line with a television movie, which is exactly what I thought the original trailers looked like.
Similar to last year’s “The Book Thief,” which was also a World War II survivor drama, “Unbroken” doesn’t do enough to differentiate itself from a smaller production you’d see on Lifetime or The History Channel.
I have the utmost respect for the subject matter. However, Jolie manages to take a remarkable story and turn it into a pretty unremarkable film.