Running Time: 137 mins. Rating: x Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Angelina Jolie
Language: English and Japanese and Italian w/English subtitles
Cast: Jack O’Connell, Takamasa ‘Miyavi’ Ishihara, Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund, Jai Courtney, Finn Wittrock, Luke Treadaway, Ken Watanabe, C.J. Valleroy
Next time you go ballistic when the bartender waters down your drink or feel murderous when the tailor cuts your pants legs too short, think of how much better off you are than Louis Zamperini. Fighting in the Japanese theater in World War II, he has the misfortune to suffer a double engine loss on his aircraft, leaving him and two buddies on a rubber lifeboat in the middle of the ocean for forty-five days. Forget about the sharks that encircle the boat. Falling prey to one of them might be a blessing, considering the lack of food and water or living space, nor do the men have much hope of being rescued. Rescued by the good guys that is. When they are picked up by the Japanese navy, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that they’re on dry land. The bad news is that they are taken to one, and then another, prison camp, subjected to torments by guards who must think the Geneva Convention is a meeting of dental lab technicians in a Swiss hotel.
While UNBROKEN, the feature by Angelina Jolie that is based on Laura Hillenbrand’s book—which remained a New York Times best seller for four years—packs a punch, in fact quite a few of those, the movie cannot compare to the visceral sensations communicated by Hillenbrand. The long passages of detail to get across the suffering of the prisoners cannot be reduced to typical anti-war propaganda. They are exquisitely written, the book being a page-turner while the movie simply does not carry the same impact to the audience. Quite a few reviewers have reported that they felt unmoved, that the movie was stodgy and stagey. But maybe it’s not fair to expect a film to be as good as the source material. Thanks to an awards-worthy performance from Jack O’Connell, the title unbroken fellow—the same actor who riveted attention in the dialogue-challenged STARRED UP—UNBROKEN is a movie to see and could cut some ice with the Academy when it becomes time to nominate and vote awards.
The movie opens with some exciting action sequences as an American crew head for a target somewhere in Japan. Bombs are flying; Zeroes (Japanese aircraft so-called because the Japanese flag symbol is a red circle against a white background) are shot down. In the midst of the action, director Jolie flashes back to Zamperini’s youth (played by CJ. Valleroy), an Italian-American who is beaten by his peers who use anti-Italian pejoratives to justify their action. This bullying only motivates Zamperini to be the best he can in track, and with extensive training, he makes the Berlin Olympics of 1936, the event that found Jesse Owens winning four gold medals. (In the book, Louis confers with Hitler, but this is deleted from the film.)
When Louis’ plane loses engine power, he and two other survivors cling to life with virtually no planes flying overhead that could rescue them. There is an awful lot of water in the world. Forty-five days later, having eaten a seagull with disastrous results and raw fish that kept them alive and probably made them swear off sushi restaurants for life, they are captured by a Japanese naval vessel, and transferred to a prison camp where Musuhiro Watanabe (Miyavi), nicknamed “the Bird,” takes a particular antipathy to Zamperini. The bilingual, feminine-appearing Watanabe beats the man unmercifully and daily with his wooden stick and whip and in one horrendous event forces the entire corps of American prisoners to each punch him in the face.
At war’s end, when the men believed they will all be killed, they receive the best news of their lives and Zamperini returns to a hero’s welcome. As the epilogue states, he dies this year at the age of 97.
As mentioned, the film is dutiful, a traditional biopic told according to the usual conventions. Somehow the brutality of the treatment suffered by the Americans is not as moving as it should be, when contrasted to the graphic renditions of the superior book. Yet UNBROKEN, with its PG-13 rating (ironically, actual violence as opposed to cartoonish mayhem does not get an “R” rating), evokes almost a patriotic duty to see.
If you like this recommendations: