Unbroken

Happy Oscars! This week we take atAngelina Jolie’s second fixture as a director in Unbroken, nominated for three Academy Awards. Starring Jack O’Connell, Garrett Hedlund and Jai Courtney, Unbroken is rated PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language.

Based on a true story, Unbroken follows the life of Louis Zamperini (O’Connell), an Olympic athlete who joined the army during the second world war. However, after a plane crash in the Pacific, Zamperini is caught by the Japanese and becomes a prisoner of war, almost collapsing under the pressure of surviving.

8.5 out of 10

For the life of me I can’t figure out why this movie has been panned by audiences and critics alike. It sits at a paltry 50% on Rotten Tomatoes, a cautionary 59/100 on Metacritic, and a palatable 7.1 on IMDb. In other words, if you listen to what’s out there online (or Zach over on my right there), Unbroken is terrible. Simply put, they’re wrong. Terribly wrong. Maybe in breaking down the movie to its components I can find this mysterious fatal flaw, but I’m telling you it doesn’t exist.

I’ve been inspired by Zamperini’s story since I read his book just a few years ago (something, by the way, that Zach has not done), and it was a pleasure to see his story adapted to the big screen. Laura Hillenbrand did a fantastic job with the book, in my opinion an even better job than the movie. However, just like Hillenbrand’s book, Angelina Jolie’s movie was fraught with tension. There was a sense of impending doom throughout the first third of the movie, with the whole audience knowing what was coming yet hoping, for everyone’s sake, that it never did. It reminded me of Titanic, another movie with a tragic historical backdrop. And once Louis’s plane crashed and he was stranded on that raft through his ultimate capture and torture at the hands of the Japanese, the tension never abated. There were very few bullets flying but Unbroken is one of the most intense war movies I’ve seen, even among Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan (Just because I know Zach is going to try to chew me out about that last statement, I will state explicitly that no, Unbroken is not as good as Saving Private Ryan). Zach will try to tell you that the pacing was horrible and that the part where Zamperini is stranded on his raft drags. Well, Zach, he was on that raft for 45 days. I don’t imagine he was exhilarated being on that raft either. Even still, Angelina Jolie, Unbroken’s director, is able to develop Zamperini’s character while simultaneously showing his comparative mental strength as his other raft-mates slowly descend into defeat while Louis still rambles on about his mother’s gnocchi. It’s an integral facet to his character and a massive reason of why he was able to survive. Another complaint I’ve heard is that parts of Unbroken are essentially “torture porn”, a direct quote from a friend and also suspiciously from the second Rotten Tomatoes review. In my opinion, like with the pacing complaints this so-called flaw is horribly unfounded. Jolie does not glorify Zamperini’s suffering – something that Zamperini wouldn’t have allowed – but instead provides an unflinching look at what Zamperini had to endure and the attention and abuse that his celebrity and his unwillingness to be subjected brought him. “Torture porn” implies that there are people enjoying his suffering and his abuse. From what I could see in the theater, this simply wasn’t the case. I, for one, had my hands on my face and my jaw dropped watching in awe and what this man could do. Zach was in the same position and was audibly gasping at certain points throughout the film. Featuring any less of the abuse Zamperini faced would be whitewashing what he endured, rather than respecting his strength and idealistic loyalty to his nation.

A final major complaint I’ve seen propagated is that Jack O’Connell doesn’t give enough insights into Zamperini’s humanity and character. Again, I scoff. Simply through his ability to overcome all the abuses and tragedies that are pervasive around him gives the audience far reaching insights into who Louis is and the strength he possesses. And in terms of more dramatic manifestations of his character, I go back to the scene on the raft. He knows that the other two men on the raft are growing weak and going crazy and that sooner or later he will follow. He attempts to comfort them, to ease their pain and to keep talking with them about better times and their lives when they get back home. He is strong enough and caring to give to other people something that he doesn’t have much of himself: hope. And in terms of O’Connell’s acting, I think he was great. Sure, he didn’t have the most involved of speaking roles, but in terms of delivering on what was most impactful about Louis, he was a rousing success. Takamasa Ishihara, the actor who played the Bird and who I recently learned is a Japanese rock star was also fantastic. The iciness and envy that emanated from his character were visible in his eyes and his face, and he really starred in the POW camp scenes.

My one major criticism with the film is that it missed out on one of Louis’s greatest achievements. Not running in the Olympics, not getting off the raft, not returning home to his family, but finding forgiveness. Years after his return home, he returns to those POW camps and meets the men who abused him, and rather than retaliating, he shakes their hands and has conversations with them. This shows Zamperini’s trademark strength and compassion while also illustrating the ultimate contrast between him and the Bird: while Zamperini is willing to meet with the man who singled him out and abused him endlessly, the Bird will not meet him. What a fitting end to Zamperini’s chapter as a national inspiration.

I genuinely hope this movie gets a best picture nod. In my opinion it certainly deserves. Given that fact that it has been panned virtually across the board I’d say the prospects are dubious, but then again, with Hollywood royalty like Jolie in the director’s chair, Zamperini’s recent passing, and the fact that a significant portion of the Academy is white men who lived through World War Two, it’s certainly a possibility.
~Will

6.0 out of 10

I am going to write about five hundred words on this film but I really can’t review it much better than the older man (Adorned in Army apparel, could’ve been a veteran) in front me. About halfway through the film, he leaned towards the guy he came with and said: “They should stop showing this stuff. It’s masochistic.”
There you have it, folks. Unbroken featured so much torture that the average Gitmo guard would get queasy. This is probably the most we as a nation have enjoyed watching war crimes since…ever, hopefully. Is it well made torture? Why yes, it is! Ms, Jolie certainly can direct her way around a few lashings with a dash of crimes against humanities.

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And don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware the movie isn’t portraying a walk in a park. Of course, there’s always a very difficult balance whenever somebody’s depicting real, traumatic events within the boundaries of a story. You have to have an arc but also exhibit the brutality the subject has experienced in a way that sheds light on those the audience calls history. The book Unbroken, from what I hear, does this very, very well. Well enough to land it on the New York Times Bestseller List for a rock-solid 190 weeks (Right below Bill O’Reilly’s billionth “Killing” book!).

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But what have I said a billion times? Films have a lot to do in a few hours that aren’t afforded any intermissions and pacing is everything. Books are given several breaks even if they’re page turner. Thus, when veteran Louis Zamperini was penning his memoir, he could have separated chapters on the problems he faced and there would be breathers in between but here, we’re barraged with about seven torture scenes or so in a row.

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The funny thing is, I didn’t really realize that until I was describing the plot hours after seeing it. I actually was really impressed by the actors (Our lead and his Japanese enforcer in the film command a lot of attention), the set pieces and the costumes (Which build the world perfectly). But when somebody asked me what exactly happened in the movie, I think I pretty much repeated the same thing over and over: “He was tortured, he stood up, he was tortured again but he stood up again”. The scenes were powerful, put each one taxed the following’s significance. In short, it all numbs the audience out after a while.

What kills me the most, though, is that there are about a billion great stories about Zamperini that are just waved by. For example, and this isn’t much of a spoiler since he obviously lived on to write his story but still, before the end credits, the usual “Where are they now?” stories were flashed. One of them involved a pretty small, interesting anecdote about Zamperini and his captor decades after the war that was practically begging for a film. It lent itself perfectly well to the flashback-flashforward structure they used relatively well throughout this one.

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For what it’s worth, though, I don’t dislike the movie. It was a genuine effort which does count for a lot when adapting a story from history. Plus, Jolie has to be allowed some form a learner’s curve, right? She does do pretty well with the more dramatic/kinetic scenes in this one. If one goes in with the precaution that they’re about to witness less of an arc and more Hollywood-grade stomach-churning moments, then they’ll like it just fine. If you think you can endure the more indulgent scenes or if you’re plain curious out of interest for the time period, then check it out and it shouldn’t be a waste.

For now, though, I’m afraid I’ll have to stick to Saving Private Ryan as far as World War II in the wonderful world of modern cinema goes.
~Zach

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