Unbroken (2014)

UnbrokenHaving ran his way to 8th place in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Louis “The Torrance Tornado” Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) enlists in the United States Army Air Corps where he receives the rank of Second Lieutenant. When his Bombardier is shot down during a routine rescue mission, Louis finds himself adrift at sea with Russell Phillips (Domnhall Gleeson) and Francis McNamara (Finn Wittrock). For forty-six days the three survivors fend for themselves, first killing a seagull and when it proves inedible baiting its entrails to fish for something a little more palatable. They are eventually rescued by the Japanese, at which time Louis is interred in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp run by Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe (Miyavi) where he labours for the enemy.

Produced and directed by none other than Angelina Jolie, the film is an adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 non-fiction book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption about the real-life Zamperini. Considering this is only Jolie’s second directorial effort, after In The Land of Blood and Money, it’s notably accomplished. After all, she’s working from a Coen brothers script (Ethan and Joel having collaborated with Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson), has hired Roger Deakins as her cinematographer and confidently amassed an impressive cast of rising stars. Sadly, however, Unbroken isn’t quite the sum of its parts.

Essentially three stories in one — namely how a young immigrant came to represent America in the Olympics; a tale of record-breaking survival at sea; and a story of torture and torment at the hands of a Japanese officer — Unbroken can’t help but labor its point: Louis Zamperini is made of sturdy stuff. Any one of these narratives might have made a fine film — as we have undoubtedly seen with Life of Pi and The Railway Man — but together they find themselves competing with rather than complimenting one another. The Olympics is the first casualty, awkwardly cut with an aerial attack when such a singular achievement deserves an audience’s undivided attention, but throughout the film structural decisions work to undermine not just the sheer scale of Louis’ ordeal but the scope of his myriad accomplishments.

Nevertheless, the cast give it their all, and while it’s never quite as powerful as it should be Unbroken is still a tough and touching watch. O’Connell has gone from strength to strength this year — even making an impression in 300: Rise of an Empire — and Jolie’s film sees him continue on that upward trajectory. He’s as charismatic and compelling as ever, but the nature of this particular role pushes and perfects his abilities more than ever before. Even at his most malnourished and mistreated Louis shines with the same intensity and survivor spirit that exemplified Starred Up‘s Eric, ’71‘s Gary or even Skins‘ James Cook. The rest of the supporting cast are just as memorable, with Gleeson and Wittrock rounding out an ensemble which also includes John D’Leo, Garrett Hedlund, Jai Courtney, Luke Treadaway and Japanese singer-songwriter Miyavi.

For all of its faults there is no denying that Unbroken is ultimately successful in its endeavour to do justice to the extraordinary life of Louis Zamperini — at least within the constraints of the cinematic medium. O’Connell is sometimes left to pick up the slack, but in such moments it only becomes clearer that he was the right man for the job. Regardless of however much pressure he may be experiencing O’Connell never falters, let alone breaks.

4-Stars

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About popcornaddiction
I am a psychology graduate, a News Writer for HeyUGuys/BestforFilm and, most importantly, a hopeless popcorn addict.

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