Movie Review: “Unbroken”


Whatever else Angelina Jolie has been doing in her busy personal, professional and activist life, we can be sure she wasn’t spending it watching World War II prisoner-of-war movies.
“Unbroken,” her film of Laura “Seabiscuit” Hillenbrand’s book about ex-Olympian Louis Zamperini’s true life survivor’s story, stumbles into most every movie of the genre in ways that suggest she hasn’t figured out how these things work. Suspense and pathos evade her as she turns an admittedly unwieldy biography into a dull, perfunctory and truncated film.
Sure, it’s a “true story,” which adds weight. Zamperini really did survive the ditching of his bomber in the Pacific, only to endure torture and starvation in Japanese camps. But if we’ve seen the beatings, the maddening stretches of solitary confinement, the war of wills between the stoic serviceman and the sado-homosexual Japanese camp commander in one film, we’ve seen it in five –pretty much every film from “The Bridge on the River Kwai” to “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” to last year’s “The Railway Man.”
So “Unbroken” relies on the novelty of Zamperini’s foot racing past, quick flashback sketches of the way he found his intense focus in his childhood thanks to running. The film too-obviously and un-cinematically tells us about the faith and aphorisms — “If you can take it, you can make it” — he claims got him through his ordeals.
Jack O’Connell, of “300: Rise of an Empire,” plays Zamperini once he’s old enough to race and reach the 1936 Berlin Olympics. A runner whose event was the 5,000 meters race, Berlin only set the stage for what was sure to be his moment of glory — at the 1940 Olympics, in Tokyo. But that one was canceled by World War II.
Instead, we ride along in Zamperini’s B-24 — the quietest and cleanest (and most digital) B-24 ever — as he (the bombardier) directs it over the target. Domhnall Gleeson (“About Time”) is the pilot who gets them home, even after they’ve been shot up. But one mission he doesn’t, and he, Zamperini and a crewmate (Finn Wittrock) are stuck in a raft for weeks and weeks. Llttle water, raw fish to eat, blistering sun, sharks and strafing by Japanese aircraft are not where their problems end.
Captured and shipped to Japan, Zamperini is dogged by a fiendishly cruel Watanabe, aka “The Bird,” given a prissy/sadistic delicacy by Takamasa Ishihara.
“Don’t LOOK at me,” he coos. If you do, he canes you. If you don’t, he canes you.

And he loves — in a perverse, leering way — caning Zamperini.
Jolie’s best contributions to the genre are a few early imprisonment scenes that capture the myopia of men unable to see beyond the crack in the bottom of their cell door, or only through a loose corner of a blindfold.
But every time we’re meant to fear that a summary execution is nigh, Jolie blows the build up. Every moment of Zamperini’s silent (no Bruce Willis wisecracks for this hero) struggle against The Bird, rooted on by his fellow POWs (Garrett Hedlund plays the senior officer), fails to ignite.
The performances, save for Ishihara’s, are colorless. Even the formidable young Gleeson fails to make much of an impression.
Jolie, with four credited screenwriters, Oscar winners among them — ends this real history so abruptly that whatever moral her story was aiming for has to be dealt with in the closing titles. And whatever the virtues of her directing debut, the Balkan tragedy “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” she’s into “Well, there’s always Maleficent II” territory here.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language
Cast: Jack O’Connell, Takamasa Ishihara, Garrett Hedlund, Domhnall Gleeson
Credits: Directed by Angelina Jolie, screenplay by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson, based on the Laura Hillenbrand book. A Universal release.
Running time: 2:17

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10 Responses to Movie Review: “Unbroken”

  1. Ah, sorry, Louie’s life wasn’t colorful enough for you, maybe you need to go back to roofing houses for a living, seems like you might be better at that than at playing “critic”. Stupid, that they’ll let any jerk write reviews when it’s obvious they have absolutely no ability. Look into roofing, again. that’s your best bet.

    • Ahh, sorry, you haven’t seen the “film.” His “life” isn’t what I’m reviewing. It’s her blowing the film about his life. Kind of a basic failure of comprehension on your part, no?

  2. Jim says:

    I read Roger all the time in the Charlotte Observer and his reviews ususlaly fall in line with the fresh rating at RottenTomatoes. If he says “pass” on “Unbroken”, then pass…until its available online.

  3. Michelle says:

    When the first sentence of a supposed movie review constitutes a condescending personal dig at the director you can be sure that the movie review will follow in the same preconceived manner.

  4. jimmy meeks says:

    Well, with much excitement I made my way to the theater tonight to watch “Unbroken.” I read the book a couple of months ago and I was never more excited about seeing a movie than I was tonight. But alas; I was sorely disappointed. Jolie seemed to have stepped out of her comfort zone and took on project too big for her vision. The movie was “ok” – but, still, very disappointing. I wish that she had had the courage to add another 30 minutes and talk about the triumphant, post-war Louis; the one who found faith in Christ and then lived a life worth telling for generations to come. His life reveals the conquering faith of one who exercises it, as opposed to becoming a victim forever. I guess she, like most Hollywood folks, is scared of the “J” word (Jesus). Other things were wrong with it, too. Louis took all those beatings and still looked like a “male model” only minutes after each assault. The trailer lead us to believe it would be an Oscar-winning movie; the movie itself showed us that only one viewing is worth it – and to not waste time renting or buying it when it becomes available.

  5. Dan Worthington says:

    Went to see the movie with my Filipino wife. She thought that Jolie was in the movie as an actress, not directing it. She was familiar with Japanese atrocities when the Philippines was occupied by Japan during the war. We both were depressed by the movie. The movie theater had 10 movies on simultaneously. We found ourselves wishing we had seen one of the other 9.

  6. Don says:

    I did not attend this movie because Angelia Jolie was the director. The only thing I find dull, perfunctory and truncated is you. Your arrogance and unability to take some of the criticism you so easily give to others shows your weakness as a person.

    • It’s a tepid thriller and a weak weeper, badly directed by the superstar who has done most of the TV interviews about “her” project,” most reviews agree on this. Doubling down on your ill-considered opinion with attempted insults (“unability” is not a word) says more about you.

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