Not many films can boast having the Olympics, world warfare, a plane crash, shark attacks, and torturous imprisonment, but this one does…and then some. Throw in a riveting true story and one of Hollywood’s most glamorous women to direct it, and you’ve got the makings of a perfect blockbuster, right? Well, not quite.
The film Unbroken tells the remarkable true story of Louis Zamperini, an Italian-American Olympic athlete and World War II prisoner. It’s based on the acclaimed book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand and directed by Angelina Jolie. Louis grew up in a religious home but showed no interest in church. He was often bullied for being an Italian immigrant and took part in stealing, drinking, smoking, and fighting at an early age. He never thought he’d amount to much in life until his older brother, Pete, helped him turn his life around and began training him for long-distance running in track. Louis then became an outstanding runner and eventually qualified for the 1936 Olympics.
This experience had a huge impact on Louis and prepared him for the Air Force and the suffering he would face during World War II. On May 27, 1943, his B-24 plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean, where he was lost at sea for 47 days. After battling the elements and miraculously surviving the ordeal, Louis is captured by the Japanese and tortured repeatedly for more than two years.
One of the most compelling parts of Louis’ story is the conflict between him and Mutsuhiro Watanabe, an Imperial Japanese Army sergeant, who saw Louis as a threat to his authority and took sick pleasure in tormenting Louis. How much suffering can one person endure? No matter what was thrown at him, Louis’ will remained unbroken. The story falters about halfway through because the focus is on a cycle of suffering and there’s no real character development in Louis. This is problematic because it removes the audience from the story and doesn’t keep them engrossed, even though Louis’ experience is remarkable and inspiring.
Sprinkled throughout the movie are some simple moments of faith, prayer, and the struggle to understand the meaning of suffering. Louis occasionally observes the faith of others around him. Some have criticized the generic form of faith that is presented in the movie, but I think it was used far more effectively than many Christian films that can be preachy and overbearing.
The film is beautifully shot, and I was pleasantly surprised by Angelina Jolie’s directing abilities. I think she has a promising career ahead of her as a director, but the film could have really soared in the hands of a more experienced director, such as Kathryn Bigelow or Steven Spielberg. The relatively unknown cast deserves a shout out for its solid performances, especially from Jack O’Connell (Louis) and Takamasa Ishihara (Mutsuhiro).
Unbroken is one of those epic life stories that a single film cannot really do justice. I think this one bit off a little more than it could chew. By trying to include as many events as possible, the story and character development suffered. Overall, the movie is worth seeing, but it lacks the emotional impact that this story deserves.
Release Date: December 25, 2014
Running Time: 2 hr. 17 min.
MPAA Rating: PG -13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language
Production Co.: 3 Arts Entertainment, Jolie Pas, Legendary Pictures