This month’s films are all about those unspoken heroes. The ones who have undergone tremendous, and often times near-unbeatable odds only to emerge triumphant on the other side of all of that adversity. I really enjoy how these unsung heroes get the much deserved spotlight, even if the way you initially find out about them is through a less than worthy vehicle. While some films focus only on their main subject and little else (See: American Sniper), this film goes the opposite and much more damaging route, by focusing too much on the aesthetic.
Louie is a first generation Italian-American, who, with the help of his older brother, was able to turn his life around by breaking stereotypes and getting his life in order. His main focus was running. He easily surpassed every person around him, and was fast enough to finish eighth at the 1936 Olympic Games. He didn’t win a medal, but he set a record for running the fastest lap. In the 1940s, he signed up for the Air Force during World War II, where he was a bombardier. After a crash on a defective plane, he was left stranded in the middle of the ocean, on a raft with pilot Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) and crew mate Mac (Finn Wittrock) and nowhere near enough food. They were stranded for 47 days until they were captured as Japanese prisoners of war, interrogated, split up, sent to harsh concentration and work camps, and finally tortured (several times) by the inexplicably unreasonable Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara).
There is very little pleasure to be had watching Unbroken. Through every scene of mistreatment and torment, it just seemed like the main character adopted more of a grin-and-bear-it attitude, which perfectly summarizes my experience while watching this film. There is no denying Louis Zamperini is an inspiration, but Angelina Jolie’s directorial treatment of him makes him come off as less of a real person and more as a self-serving ideal for the American dream. We witness the high and low points of Zamperini’s life, but at the end of the film, you don’t feel like you know him any better than when the film began. All you are left with are cinematic moments and thematic elements that echo every other film that follows the life of a soldier during war time.
The screenplay was originally written by William Nicholson (Gladiator, Les Miserables) and Richard LaGravenese (Freedom Writers, Beautiful Creatures), but then was rewritten by the Coen Brothers (No Country For Old Men, True Grit) when Jolie was attached to direct. Somewhere along the revisions and rewrites, the true character of Louie was lost and replaced with soldier Joe Everyman, depicting only a very small part of a very complex man. He was much more than the torture and pain he endured, but you never get to find out just how much more.
What does stand out from this film are the performances, bringing life to poorly developed characters. Jack O’Connell brings as much respect and ferocity as he can, with what little he was likely given, to the struggles of Zamperini. His portrayal of Olympian and WWII fighter Louie is the backbone of the film, and the setup to what could have been a great tribute to a man who soldiered on when most would have quit. Although he could have easily carried the film by himself in the war against this poorly executed film, he did not have to fight alone. In a supporting role is Domhnall Gleeson as fellow freedom fighter Phil, who went through most of the same torture Louie did and also survived the war. Gleeson’s performance and natural rapport/sense of camaraderie with O’Connell is easily one of the few times this shallow production shows any depth.
Unbroken is undeniably a true story, but it could just as easily have been about any POW during World War II. Jolie et al, miss the mark on showing the true depth of the main character of the story, Louis Zamperini. By being heavy-handed on the brutality aspects, there is little room to introduce any other sides to the character, leaving any build-up to his iconic ideology of “love thy enemy” on an abandoned raft in the middle of the ocean. Like I said earlier, this film mainly serves as a great way to introduce this inspiring story to a new generation. Unless you’re a huge fan of Jack O’Connell or Domhnall Gleeson, you may find reading Louis Zamperini’s Wikipedia page much more insightful/enjoyable.
RATING: ★★★★(4/10 stars)