Starring: Jack O’Connell, Miyavi, Domhnall Gleeson
Directed by: Angelina Jolie (“In the Land of Blood and Honey”)
Written by: Joel Coen (“Inside Llewyn Davis”), Ethan Coen (“Inside Llewyn Davis”), Richard LaGravenese (“Water for Elephants”) and William Nicholson (“Les Miserables”)
As inspirational as any real-life war biography can get, the survival story of Olympic athlete and WWII POW Louis “Louie” Zamperini, who sadly passed away this year at the age of 97, is the kind of hero-worshipping film that would be difficult for any American to resist. Think of something like last year’s “Lone Survivor” or this year’s “American Sniper.” A real patriot has to love these movies, right?
Spanning from Zamperini’s childhood to the end of WWII, “Unbroken” features Jack O’Connell as Zamperini during his time as an Olympic track star to his service in the U.S. military where he survived a plane crash, 47 days in a life raft and two years as a prisoner of war in Japan. While much of the first half of the film is beautiful to look at (credit cinematographer Roger Deakins for his work in the air and ocean) and the life raft scenes are incredibly harrowing and intense, the same can’t be said of the narrative that focuses on Zamperini’s life once he is taken prisoner on enemy soil.
These scenes, which feature Zamperini pitted against his cruel torturer known as “The Bird” (Miyavi), are lacking in sentiment from the get go. Miyavi, while menacing enough to make his character believable, isn’t written with much depth. Instead, screenwriters seem comfortable enough in the rest of the story to keep Bird as a cliché antagonist who wields a bamboo stick with authority. In one scene, Zamperini and Bird, after some time apart, are reunited in a way that should have felt devastating, but comes off as diagrammed and impassive.
Directed with complete respect by Angelina Jolie from a Coen Brothers’ script adapted from Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling book, there is surprisingly little emotional impact from such an incredible story. Jolie has made a film to admire because of its heroic subject, but not one that honestly captures a character like Zamperini more than skin deep.