A former Olympic runner is beset be the horrors of World War II.
Unbroken is an unremarkable film about a remarkable man – that was the mini review I was toying with after the credits rolled. But its not entirely accurate.
It’s definitely an unremarkable film but part of the problem is that the life it follows isn’t particularly extraordinary in the way we’ve come to expect from war-based biopics. Louis Zamperini certainly had an interesting life, as an Olympic athlete who was captured during World War II and endured Japanese POW camps. But the dramatic highlights are oddly damp.
Partly that’s because the many writers, including Joel and Ethan Coen, don’t seem to have a clue where to place their emphasis. The early part of the film works well, seeing the young man dig up the courage and fortitude to compete at a global level. But then it all becomes bogged down in a nigh-on interminable lost-at-sea sequence. We learned the lesson 10 minutes ago Jolie, get on with it.
And the rest of the picture doesn’t really improve matters. He’s a solid sort is Zamperini, determined to survive. But that’s really all he does, persevere in some extreme situations. But there’s little real defiance, and no plucky plans to get one over on his captors. He just does his thing until other events conspire for his thing to become a different thing.
I’m not saying that his times weren’t trying, and that just being able to survive those conditions isn’t incredible in its own right. But the moments of emphasis chosen by the filmmakers don’t really serve to highlight the story at its best, leaving out (for example) later events which would reinforce the message of the film better.
It doesn’t help that Jolie’s direction is often scrappy – the blocking is bland and it all looks quite ordinary, and that’s saying something from master cinematographer Roger Deakins. And it’s all so deliberately-paced and (at 137 minutes) drawn out that it’s hard to really know when the dramatic high points are coming.
It’s left for the performers to really elevate the picture and lead Jack O’Connell does that on the merits of a single scene of defiance late on. I’ve been harping about this young chaps talents for awhile now but this moment is sure to catch the attention of many more.
The cast in general does decent work, including the very busy Domhnall Gleeson and the suitable evil Miyavi. It’s just a shame the film doesn’t give them much to work with. In the end, rather forgettable but get ready to hear a lot more from O’Connell.