Unbroken reminds me of when I was in middle school and got a creative writing assignment. It was always something like “write a short story.” I would come up with a great concept (in my twisted mind). I would begin to write and the beginning would be amazing. Then as I continued the rising action became less exciting and increasingly convoluted. Near the end of my word limit I would still have a ton of story left to write, but no space. Left in this predicament I was forced to abruptly end the story in a way that made no sense. Thus I would effectively undermine any good work I had done and firmly secure myself a barely passing grade.
This is how I feel about Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, a biographical account of the life of Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell). The first scene inside a WWII fighter plane is great, really engaging and exciting. But after that scene the films gets bogged down with cheesy flashbacks. And then it just becomes very grueling. “If I can take it, I can make it” is not only Louis’s motto, but one I adopted while watching the film in order to get through it. I did like watching Louis and company when they were out at sea. I thought it was really interesting and the cinematography is beautiful. But once Louis is taken to the POW camp the film drags tremendously. When the Bird (Takamasa Ishihara) comes on to the screen it should be exciting, but it’s just bland.
Unbroken is a failure in part because it lacks focus. It would have benefited tremendously from more clear direction. And a better screenplay, one that could narrow things down a bit (Or maybe it’s just the Jai Courtney curse). I love Angelina Jolie, she’s an amazing woman. I think she’s done relatively well here for what is her second film. But I’m not convinced that she is a great director(although I think a lot of the hate directed towards Unbroken is only because people have a hatred towards Angelina, not the movie itself). I’m curious as to the quality of her future films since she already has two more on the way (By the Sea with Brad Pitt is completed and Angelina has signed up to direct a movie on the Ivory trade).
Unbroken wants to be about many things, especially the power of forgiveness and the ability of the human spirit to overcome any obstacle. Unbroken hugely fails at the forgiveness part. None of that message is conveyed in the movie except for a church sermon and some text on screen at the very end. That ending really pissed me off. Just because you type some pretty words on screen at the end doesn’t make them true. What also bothers me about the film is that the Japanese are all portrayed as the “bad guys.” There is no attempt at all to make them actual human beings, including the Bird. There is no depth to his character, which is a real shame. In Schindler’s List, for example, Amon Goeth (Ralph Fiennes) is shown to be a complex man, yet still a despicable one. Unbroken would have been better if the Bird was treated in a similar fashion (although no one could ever best Ralph Fiennes).
Jack O’Connell gives a good performance as Louis even though, somewhat surprisingly, he doesn’t have very much to do. Sure, Louis endures a lot, but Jack doesn’t have to show a wide range of emotions. The camera absolutely loves his face though and he has some charisma, so he’ll be an actor to watch in the future. With some better material Jack can probably be quite excellent. I also really enjoyed Domhnall Gleeson’s performance. He impresses me every time I see him.
Unbroken had a lot of potential, so it is disappointing. While I was watching it, I enjoyed it for the most part (except for some of the POW stuff that seemed never ending). So it isn’t a complete failure. But there’s nothing particularly memorable about the film, except for two of its actors, Jack and Domhnall. Unbroken will probably just be a footnote in their careers as well. 5/10