“Unbroken” is the second film directed by Angelina Jolie, who recently stated she preferred to be behind the camera and was looking at a career in directing. I didn’t see her directorial debut, “In The Land Of Blood And Honey” which apparently flopped. So when her name was attached to Unbroken, a true story about Olympic runner Louis Zamperini, I didn’t pay it much thought. With a screenplay written by Joel and Ethan Coen (“Fargo” and “No Country For Old Men”), “Unbroken” follows Louis’s journey from becoming an Olympic athlete to his unit’s plane being shot down in WWII. He spent 47 days in a raft with two other men, eventually leading to his capture by the Japanese where he was taken to a prisoner camp. The film stars Jack O’Connell (Eden Lake and TV’s “Skins”), along with Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund, Luke Treadaway and Takamasa Ishihara.
Angelina took a different route to what people were probably thinking when she chose to cast Jack O’Connell as Zamperini. Having an English actor play a well-known American/Italian sporting legend could have been a risky decision. Obviously Jack has a fair amount of experience, having been acting for ten years but a key role like this is a big challenge. I know several of the up and coming talents were in talks for the role but I’m glad it went to O’Connell. The young boy chosen to play Louis in the flashback scenes was also incredibly well cast. The transition from the younger actor to Jack early on in the film was very fluent and believable. The supporting cast are very good too, but it’s Jack’s show right from the start. He plays it with such emotional reservation but deep down encompasses the fighting spirit instilled in Louis by his older brother Pete. Jack appears in nearly every scene of this 137 minute film, the success and authenticity of it rests solely on his shoulders. I haven’t seen a performance from Jack quite like this and it’s great to see him maturing into a really talented actor.
The period of the 1940’s is re-created very realistically. I read the entire film was shot in New South Wales. Obviously there’s some CG when required, but the locations themselves make for some lovely cinematography. The editing and transition between scenes is nice and smooth and some of the shots on the ocean during that 47 day period are wonderful. The beginning of the film drops the viewer straight into the fight, where Louis and his men are flying into enemy territory to bomb the Japanese. Surprisingly there is very little action after that first fifteen or twenty minutes. Unbroken it’s more of a psychological drama about the cruelty of war and it’s effects on the human psyche. However, the opening scene is of a dog fight with some great visuals including a realistic plane crash into the ocean.
I sympathized with Louis but I wasn’t completely drawn in to the journey, I still felt like an outsider even when I was watching the horrible acts being thrust upon him. Not to say Jack isn’t more than convincing in the role. My issue is with the breaking point that we all have, its never truly tested or if it is it’s not depicted in a powerful enough way to quite pull you in. Obviously Louis has a will to survive driven by his brothers words “If I can take it, I can make it”. I have no doubt those words were the reason he survived the entire ordeal. Regardless of his eventual belief in god, it was he who chose not to lose his mind or give up, that is a strength you either have or you don’t, god has nothing to do with that.
The flashbacks don’t serve much of a purpose other than showing what a talented runner Louis was. I think the better inclusion would have been the relationship with his family, which could have been shown through those flashbacks. The situation doesn’t get anymore dire than during the 47 days, he and two others spend floating in the ocean on a life raft with minimal food and water. Those are the moments you would need to draw on experiences in your life, the love you have for others and the love they have for you might just be enough to pull you through. Instead, the film lingers during that 30 minutes consisting of a cooking conversation, a punctured raft being patched (with what??) and the beating and killing of a shark. I’m guessing the trio didn’t really hold a shark down and beat it/stab it to death, that it’s just the Coen’s taking some theatrical license with the writing. If it did happen I apologize and I’m very impressed (haha).
That period of 6 weeks spent on the raft doesn’t seem to alter the look of our three survivors. Sure, Jack looks like he grew some modest bum fluff but I’d think after that long you’d be sporting a homeless style beard. More attention to detail in the middle segment would have given the script a touch more realism. I’m sure the book, which this is based on, incorporated more about how Louis came to fight in the war, especially after having such a promising athletic career. The movie doesn’t even gloss over it. It wouldn’t have been difficult to find out what happened in that part of Louis’s life. Some of the shorter scenes weren’t crucial but made final cut, at the expense of the extra details.
Unbroken is a competently made film with some very solid performances. The cinematography is lovely and the basic story depicting the survival instinct in humans is well displayed. Having seen “Rescue Dawn” and “To End All Wars”, two other films that portray similar survival stories, Unbroken hardly offers a fresh perspective. The running time is a bit long and a few too many liberties are taken. It’s a solid film but somewhere within lacks the X factor required to elevate its standing. No denying Angelina has an eye for talent and Unbroken remains one of the better films of the year.
My rating for “Unbroken” is 7/10