Nominated for Best Cinematography (Roger Deakins) at the 87th Annual Academy Awards

Nominated for Best Sound Mixing (Jon Taylor, Frank A. Montano, David Lee) at the 87th Annual Academy Awards

Nominated for Best Sound Editing (Becky Sullivan, Andrew DeCristofaro) at the 87th Annual Academy Awards

Well, I am in agreement with the Academy on this one…it looks and sounds fantastic. Unfortunately, that’s about it. The story of U.S. Olympic athlete Louis “Louie” Zamperini (a solid Jack O’Connell), and his subsequent WWII service, including his tenure as a prisoner of war in Japan–has been turned into a cloying, artificial movie loaded with caricatures. The film quickly becomes an endurance test, not unlike Mel Gibson’s 2004 snuff film “The Passion of the Christ”, after brief postcard scenes of Zamperini’s Torrance, California life as the son of Italian immigrants, and a touch of his decent showing at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. But the main chunk of the story focuses on the 47-day survival (along with two buddies for most of it) on an inflatable raft, after his plane was shot down over the Pacific Ocean. It then chronicles Louie’s “rescue” (along with one surviving crewman) by the Japanese, and his subsequent torture at a P.O.W. camp, at the hands of the notorious Mutsuhiro “Bird” Watanabe (played by Miyavi, a Japanese pop star! And it shows.). Zamperini (possible spoiler) manages to survive…and the movie pretty much ends.

“Unbroken” is based on Lauren Hillenbrand’s celebrated 2010 non-fiction book of the same name. It’s a book I haven’t read, but immediately during the postscript of this motion picture adaptation, you realize something bewildering. That is that the movie leaves a good chunk of the “good stuff” out. Zamperini’s post P.O.W. life included a conversion to Christianity, and the forgiving of his former captors. There’s a quick mention of that before the credits roll, but it’s not enough. Zamperini also apparently had post WWII fights against alcoholism and PTSD…but sophomore director Angelina Jolie isn’t interested in any of that. Instead, it’s all beatings, and humiliation, and Christ-like imagery that drives home the same point over and over and over again. The Japanese are cartoons, the soldiers are all noble and movie star handsome, and for the umpteenth time this season, I’m getting on my soapbox about nuance and subtlety and ambiguity. Jolie doesn’t know how to do it. She was way too inexperienced for a project of this scope, with only the barely seen “In the Land of Blood and Honey” from 2011, as a feature film directing training ground.

I was rooting for Angelina with this one, I really was. But she slathers everything on bluntly with a butter knife, and doesn’t know when to pull back and let the grace notes flourish on their own. She’s a great humanitarian, and an award-winning actress, but apparently a terrible director. Two out of three ain’t bad, as the saying goes. I guess it’s not completely her fault, as the film has four credited screenwriters (all BIG names…google away!). But as the captain of this boat…it was hers to sink. “Unbroken” is partially redeemed by O’Connell’s earnest performance, Alexandre Desplat’s score, and the aforementioned look and sound. But it never rises above its shameless awards-baiting obviousness, and the failure to go deeper and darker into grittier, more mature territory.

Grade:  C-

next review up, Angelina’s other 2014 hit, “Maleficent”


2 comments on “Unbroken

  1. Felt too plain and simple to really wow me. Yet, it still kept my interest more than ever, and I think there’s something to credit for that. Good review Mark.

  2. It ended up getting tedious and repetitive for me…but thanks for the kudos, Dan. ML

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