Unbroken – Review
In 2010 Laura Hillenbrand's authored a bestselling book that detailed the personal accounts of Italian-American Louis Zamperini. The book entitled "Unbroken" ultimately introduced millions to Zamperini and his life whole story ranging from his adolescent knack of getting into perpetual trouble, to him becoming a high school track star, his competing in the 5,000 meter race in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, his time as bombardier Officer in the United States Army Air Force and his eventual life experiences back in the United States after Word War 2.
The book and now a movie entitled the same "Unbroken" is largely the story about his early life lessons learned as they played a central role in shaping - forging his iron will determination “if I can take it then I can make it”, survival instincts as a captive in a sadistic Japanese prisoner of war camp in the South Pacific.
Directed by actress Angelina Jolie “Unbroken” spends the bulk of its 2 hour running time focusing on Zamperini as an officer. With an opening scene where we see him on a bombing run that will sit you on your heals, “Unbroken” makes a first strong impression out of the gate reminding the viewer again that truly “war is hell”. We also see during this harrowing bombing run how “Louis,” the eternal optimistic center of strength to the other men on the plane came about such fortitude through a series of dart like flashbacks scenes involving his early childhood relationships and personal events. They are clearly the cornerstones of his adult character that helped him not only to handle extraordinary stressful moments but to literally will himself and body to survive.
Jolie, who’s directing style seemed eerily similar to Clint Eastwood, who directed her in the wonderful film “Changeling”, allows the camera and story to patiently move at an even pace giving us the time of getting to know the intimate particulars that shaped the young scrappy Louis as he grew from Torrance California town nuisance to years later a World War 2 hero.
Early on after we see Louie’s plane crash lands into the Pacific where he and his wounded pilot survive bad weather, with hardly any food or water, exposure to countless sharks and attacks of Japanese dive-bombers from above for 47 days in two joined rubber life rafts, the movie then proceeds to spend a great deal of time covering Louie’s capture and harsh confrontation with camp sergeant Mutsuhiro Watanabe. Known as “the Bird,” Watanabe was an unremitting sadist who recognizes Zamperini’s celebrity and made it his mission to break him.
What I like about “Unbroken” is it cinematically beautiful to look, along with the actor’s commitment physically to detail the effects of starvation. My problem with it is it’s too beautiful to watch, with misplace musical scores, along with a sense of being too theatrically aware of creating nerve racking, hard to imagine scenes at the prison camp.
We see time and time again Louis the target of countless pounding with sticks, punches, filth and torture to the point that was all there was to the story; no context except singled out for hatred. And while it important not to gloss over his sacrifice and clearly we are in awe of his sheer will to be something truly inspiring, it still lacked a bit of real DNA hard hitting emotional drama that felt palatable between the respective characters in the film. It measures up as top shelf to the many specific visual dramatic moments as detailed in the book but I felt that the credit should have gone more to the films wardrobe and make up departments respectfully with their reimagined of these many anguishing traumatic moments rather than from anything Director Jolie executed in the way of foreboding on the big screen.
In addition, once captured, Jolie Louis’s war story and the film itself turned into almost a prisoner war mute’s tale. Louis and other captures in the film have very little to say with the exception of showing the raw anger that burned in his - their eyes and the brutality of the beatings on his – their faces and bodies. It’s almost like someone forgot to include more dialogue beyond the dominating ramblings of the camp commander who came over time to be largely nothing more than the symbolic embodiment of the evils of war than anything else.
Finally, what was a bit of real disappointment was the movie’s story coming to an abrupt end at the point of surrender by Japan in 1945. According to the book, Louis’s life story went on well beyond the surrender, resulting in as much equally compelling stories of his life story left untold. While this aspect of his life would have clearly added another hour to the film, it would have been worth to it to delve into other critical stages of Louis’s post war life when he returned to the states; exploring Louie’s spiritual religious conversion, his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder and all of the other messy complex business of trying to be normal after experience all that he had.
Still, for sheer solid well-made entertainment I found the value of “Unbroken” to be unflinching in telling a story of an amazing man and an amazing solider.
3 – 1/2 Stars