A rule of thumb for judging whether a movie is worth seeing? Be aware of screenplays written by 4 or more people…
That admonition is especially relevant in the case of director Angelina Jolie’ second feature film, based on an adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s biography of Louis Zamperini, son of Italian immigrants who represented the United States in the 1936 Olympics, in the process registering the fastest final lap ever recorded in the 5000 meter relay. Enlisting at the start of WWII, Zamperini became an officer in Army Air Core and by 1943 was serving as the bombardier of a B-24 that crashed in the Pacific Ocean on a failed rescue mission. Adrift with two other survivors for over 7 weeks, Zamperini was captured by the Japanese and imprisoned for the duration of the war at various POW camps. He was singled out for especially brutal treatment by Mutsuhiro Wanatabe, commandant of two of the four camps in which Zamperini endured over 2 years of imprisonment under horrifically brutal conditions. After the war, Zamperini returned home, married and after bouts of severe depression, became an evangelical Christian who devoted much of his life to inspirational preaching on the virtues of forgiveness. He lived long enough to return to Japan and participate in running the torch relay for the 1998 winter Olympics in Nagano-a few days before his 89th birthday.
Shouldn’t there be enough in this life to warrant a vibrant movie?
Alas, while Jolie provides gripping scenes of aerial combat, a few and tense scenes depicting Zamberini’s efforts to survive on the open seas and extensive coverage of his treatment by the admittedly sadistic Wanatabe, Unbroken never gets beyond an exposition of the biographical facts noted above to give audiences a glimpse of just what gave this one-time star athlete the will to survive under the weight of such gruesome punishment.
Jack O’Connell, a young British actor who rose to prominence last year as a young solder in a film entitled ‘71 simply doesn’t breathe life into his depiction of Zamberini and none of the other members of the film’s sizeable cast are on screen long enough to permit connection with them beyond their collective capacity for physical suffering. Only Japanese actor Takamasa Ishihara’s terrifying portrait of Wanatabe gives the audience a feel for the suffering Zamberini and his fellow inmates endured.
Jolie provides appropriately gruesome images of prison camp life and the deliberate degradations to which allied troops were subjected, but Unbroken never stirs the soul nor allows the viewer into the psyche of an immigrant’s feckless son who became a symbol of American courage and endurance.
The Verdict? Uninspiring biography of a U.S. hero in a movie that has the feeling of one of those “painted by the numbers” portraits.
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