“If you will save me, I will serve you forever.” – Louis Zamperini (1917-2014)
As a young boy, Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) was a boy who never truly fit in and was always going against everything else. He could run, but he never tried to do anything with that, until his older brother (John D’Leo) got him on the track team. After that, Louis went on to be the fastest runner in the state and he eventually went on to compete in the Olympic games for the United States. After that, Louis joined the Army when WWII started and was often involved in many rescue missions.
During one such mission, the plane malfunctions, sending the entire crew into the water. Louis, along with his good friends Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) and Mac (Finn Wittrock), survived and endured over two months alone at sea, only to be picked up by the Japanese. Due to the fact that the U.S. and Japan were fighting, Louis was thrown into a Japanese internment camp, ruled with an iron fist by a cruel man known as “The Bird” (Miyavi). Throughout all of his life, Louis always remained strong, no matter the odds he faced.
Unbroken was not as hard to watch as I had previously imagined and it also didn’t leave me feeling as emotional as I had guessed it would. Regardless of that, the film still fit me hard in a few places and it beautifully and effectively told the story of Louis Zamperini. His story is one of hardships, unspeakable torture, and never-ending resilience. His attitude towards all things is what most amazed me and the direction and acting in this film is top-notch. This is surely a film that will move audiences, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that there’s still something left to be desired in the end.
Jack O’Connell is going to have a long and prosperous career, as he definitely displays here that he’s a tremendous acting force. The level of physical and mental dedication that he brings to the role is unnerving and his interactions with all around him are truly something else. O’Connell has the ability to withstand hell and then smile it off, just as Zamperini did. Watching his character develop overtime and overcome certain obstacles is truly inspiring and O’Connell does a beautiful job of portraying such a strong man.
Domhnall Gleeson, a recent favorite of mine, sports an American accent here and he too does a beautiful job with his character, best-friend to Zamperini. His time spent in the boat and in internment camps with O’Connell creates some of the best chemistry that I’ve seen this year. His character is a bit more reserved, but everything is said with his eyes and the determination to stay alive. Garrett Hedllund doesn’t come into play until the end, but his strong-willed friend to O’Connell is a nice touch. Takamasa Ishihara, or Miyavi, as “The Bird’ is one of the more interesting casting choices of the year, as he was a Japanese Pop-Star before cast in this film. His torturous character is layered with insecurities and loneliness which probe him to be so cruel. In one particular scene with O’Connell, his cowardliness comes to light and it’s perhaps the film’s defining moment.
Angelina Jolie brings a very personal eye to this film, as the time she spent with Zamperini has clearly influenced her work. The film, a tribute to the late Zamperini, is exceptionally well-shot and Jolie’s care for her characters is evident with the closeness and time spent with them. She creates evocative and powerful sequences which are only elevated by her wide and inclusive viewpoints, emphasizing the overwhelming effect that Zamperini had on others. For the most part, Jolie focuses on the “If I can take it, I can make it” that Zamperini possessed, as she chooses to include many scenes of torture and the hardships that he faced all his life. However, those scenes are handled with care and Jolie certainly proves herself a worthy director with her ability to tell this story so masterfully.
During this film, there was a sense of grief and horror that overwhelmed all who were watching closely, and yet the film felt distant for some reason. Despite having some of the most powerful characters in film this year, there was never any deep concern for them, as bad as that sounds. With Fury, we got to know the five main characters really well and we cared deeply for them in the end. Here, I just didn’t feel that way with the characters involved. Jolie, perhaps, put in too much care and didn’t allow the for the real horror and emotion to take over. A lot of Zamperini’s life before the war, including his Olympic career, is glossed over in flashbacks in the beginning of the film. O’Connell is definitely stoic, but it almost feels like we don’t know him well enough to become completely emotionally invested in his character and that’s a huge issue for a film centered around him.
Unbroken is at times a deeply moving, well-acted, well-directed film about Louis Zamperini, but it does fall short on emotional levels. There’s a lot that happened during his life and though this is only a glimpse into everything that happened to the legendary man, it still feels incomplete. That’s not to fault the incredible acting by O’Connell and the supporting cast, as I believe some of the issues stem from the direction and the writing. Not enough time is spent with his family and the most emotional time is during his time trapped at see. The focus seems off in this film and that’s rather unfortunate, given the gravity that the novel has. This is still a good film and it has many good things about it, but it’s definitely not the emotional powerhouse that many predicted it to be.