There’s been a lot of fuss about Angelina Jolie’s box office directorial debut. ‘Unbroken’ promises to be a moving tale of determination and character, set during World War II. But does it deliver?
Louis Zamperini (Jack O'Connell, ‘Skins'), known to his mates as Zam, starts out as a juvenile delinquent. He’s a thief, gets beat up a lot, and hides moonshine in milk bottles. But he’s strong, and his brother Pete sees that. With Pete's help, Zam sets himself straight, and is on track to be one of America’s Olympic heroes. War breaks out, and Zam becomes an Air Force bombardier. His plane goes down, and what follows is his story not only of surviving more than a month at sea in a life raft, but also continued abuse and deprivation in Japanese prisoner of war camps.
Firstly, the direction: I couldn’t tell that a first-time director was behind the camera. But, there was also nothing terribly special about the direction either. Jolie looks to be a well-versed and dedicated director with a lot of potential, but only time will tell how good she really can be.
The film's editing is good: flashbacks to provide background are well-placed, scenes aren’t ever too long, and the tale moves along at a comfortable pace. Jolie isn't squeamish in depicting the depravation and violence Zam suffered, so those with sensitive constitutions should be warned. There’s a scene early on featuring Zam and his Air Force crew on a bombing run that is certainly the highlight of the film. Unfortunately, I fear this indicates Jolie may have more skill with fraught action than emotional depth.
Jolie looks to be a well-versed and dedicated director with a lot of potential, but only time will tell how good she really can be.
The acting from all the cast was decent. O’Connell is great as Zam, though at times his virtuous sincerity and self-sacrificing dedication seems overdone. Domnall Gleeson and Garrett Hedland give solid performances as Zam’s fellow prisoners, but it’s Takamasa Ishihara as prison officer Watanabe who surprises. Menacing, demented, but vulnerable, Watanabe torments Zam without any logical reason. The cast all seem to be doing their very best with a script that simply falls short of believability.
Zam’s story of determination, of never, ever giving up is admirable. However, my cynical side kept pointing certain things out: this is a story told from the point of view of the hero. It’s not objective. The things he did may have been exaggerated. His (almost superhuman) endurance, strength and character seem a little unrealistic; we’re smothered with the message, and it gets old quickly. We’re told at the beginning of the film that this is a true story, not based on one. But seriously?
One day you may want to be able to claim you saw Jolie’s directorial debut in the cinema. Sadly, this may be the only reason to bother with ‘Unbroken’.