Dir: Angelina Jolie (2014)
A film engineered and marketed for the big awards season which didn’t make the splash everyone suspected it would; Angelina Jolie‘s Unbroken (her second effort behind the camera) does everything on the academy check list and does it fairly well. It’s a shame then that the true life story of Olympian Louie Zamperini and his treatment at the hands of the Japanese during the Second World War falls short. Rising star Jack O’Connell confidently carries Unbroken over his head and Jolie has definitely brought her A game to the directors chair. However, the script by Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson (and staggeringly re-written by Joel and Ethan Coen) is as blunt and lengthy as the beatings which rain down on O’Connell.
The main flavours here of course are a rousing dose of “don’t give in”, a hint of “you can do anything” and a liberal sprinkling of “the strength of the human spirit” and Unbroken does have the power to almost pull it all off for mainstream film goers. Some interrupting time jumping unsettles the film to begin with as Zamperini’s rebellious youth is intercut with some intense bombing missions over Japan. As the young boy discovers the joys of long distance running and heads for glory at the 1936 Olympics in Germany we cut back and forth to see just enough of Louie’s interactions with his crew before their battered plane drops into the Pacific ocean.
Zamperini’s friend and pilot Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) and Mac (Finn Wittrock) a slightly dim-witted new blood found themselves afloat on a life raft for 47 days before being picked up by a Japanese boat and put to work in the POW camps. It’s here where we will spend the second hour of Jolie’s film becoming a one note struggle at its least interesting. Under the watchful eye and brutal hand of “The Bird” (Takamasa Ishihara) O’Connell remembers his brothers words of advice; If you can take it, you can make it and Jolie seems intent on punishing us also. In the most Coen Brothers scene in the film Zamperini is taken to a radio station to read false statements to the listening American public but refuses to bend to the blackmail. A pin hole of light in Jolie’s film, snatched away; We are taken back to the mud and then to the cold.
Like last years The Railway Man, Unbroken is filled with flaws; The prisoner of war film has become a genre of its own. Here every line up, every punishment and every conversation between the men feels fraught with cliché. It doesn’t help that LaGravenese and Nicholson’s script bails on Zamperini, letting his eventual reconciliation with his fierce captors play out in a few onscreen captions. Jolie seems more focused on the simple story of needing to survive; Though Sidney Lumet’s The Hill has been sighted by the director and the award-winning Roger Deakins as the main influence on Unbroken this film doesn’t quite have the pathos or the subtlety of Lumet’s and leaves much out of Zamperini’s incredible life. Then there’s Coldplay‘s glassy eyed corporate pop song (and Oscar nominated) Miracles to lead us out of the cinema. Feeling inspired yet?