Jack O’Connell in Unbroken.
Jack O’Connell in Unbroken.

Film Review | Unbroken

Unbroken doesn't penetrate the surface of emotions, remaining a slightly detached, albeit respectful, representation of a potentially touching and inspiring true story

Joel and Ethan Coen, along with Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson, adapt Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling book, Unbroken: A World War II Story Of Survival, Resilience, And Redemption, into a screenplay. Actor-director Angelina Jolie is given the reins to direct this true story. The book and the film recount the life of Olympian Louis “Louie" Zamperini.

A delinquent youth, Louie (played by Jack O’Connell) was a troubled child until his elder brother guided him towards athletics, supporting and training him to become an Olympic-grade runner. Louie represented the US in the 5,000m race in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, placing eighth but breaking the final lap record. But before he could realize his dream of competing in the next Olympics, World War II broke out and Louie joined the air force.

In 1943, Louie’s bomber plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean, where he spent 47 days floating at sea in a life-raft with two fellow soldiers, Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) and Mac (Finn Wittrock), surviving shark attacks, limited rations, harsh weather conditions and the possibility of never being rescued. At this stage, much of the story is told through flashbacks, including hints of the Italian immigrant’s apathy towards Catholicism, something that changes during the course of those 47 days, when he finds his faith.

Louie is finally rescued and captured by the Japanese army—and the next chapter in his ordeal begins. He is interned in a prisoner-of-war camp in Japan and tortured mercilessly by an excessively sadistic sergeant, Mutsuhiro “The Bird" Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara). Watanabe’s reason for singling out Louie is unclear but the latter becomes the former’s favoured battering ram, subjected to harsh, painful and damaging acts of violence and humiliation.

There are also overt religious references, not least as Jolie shows O’Connell lifting a heavy wooden beam over his head, and the closing titles, which inform us of Louie’s dedication to his faith after his return home.

One of the best scenes of the film is the opening sequence of an air raid and bomb attack. Jolie displays a strong grip there, accompanied by the exemplary work of director of photography Roger Deakins. But this early advantage gives way to a sequence of tests of endurance, similar to what the protracted segment of the 47 days at sea must have felt for Louie. It’s also disappointing that this flaccid screenplay is the best that the high-rolling team of writers— Nicholson (Gladiator, Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom), LaGravenese (Behind The Candelabra, The Bridges Of Madison County), and the Coen brothers (Fargo, The Big Lebowski)— could come up with.

Although O’Connell warms up to the role, particularly once his weakness and vulnerabilities begin to show, the screenplay cheats us of the chance to see Louie’s life after the war. His return home is wrapped up in a final shot of a homecoming, and the rest of his long life (he died last year aged 97) is summarized in text.

Unbroken doesn’t penetrate the surface of emotions, remaining a slightly detached, albeit respectful, representation of a potentially touching and inspiring true story.

The Woman In Black 2: Angel Of Death and Unbroken released in theatres on Friday.

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