Unbroken, as millions of readers and citizens know even before seeing the film adaptation, is a powerful and inspiring story. That being said, awkwardness always exists in the transition from book to movie, so I will focus on that for the most part. Also, playing with fun new questions for The Interview was so much fun that I think I’ll do it again! Wild card!
Does watching the film potentially count as an act of defiant patriotism against a tyrannical and dehumanizing state?
Whoops, left that one in there! Not this time, really.
Is Louis Zamperini’s story incredible and inspiring?
Yes, and you probably already knew this. The son of Italian immigrants going from troublemaking child to record-breaking track star and Olympian to persevering prisoner of war is better than anything Hollywood could conjure up on its own. Even if we ignored his heroics before and after surviving on a raft in the middle of the Pacific, we would still have a compelling story. Louis (played by Jack O’Connell in the movie) makes it over a month before being captured by the Japanese. In the film, the days on the raft are some of the most compelling moments, and in these scenes O’Connell and Domnhall Gleeson (playing Louis’ close friend “Phil”) shine.
So if there’s no denying the rich, compelling nature of Louis’ life story, what’s the problem? Is there one? Hmmmm…
Does Angelina Jolie’s filmmaking dilute or flatten the effects of Louis’ powerful journey?
Well, now that you mention it…I think it does! Jolie was at a disadvantage before she even began, considering the difficulty of condensing hundreds of pages into a film under two and a half hours. I admire her attempts at conveying the enduring nature of Louis’ spirit, but to me it seems there is simply not enough time to treat each aspect of his story with the time and depth it deserves. Jolie bounces from intense battles in the Pacific skies to Louis’s childhood woes and back again. She steps back again to show us his ascension to the 1936 Olympics. All of these moments and periods are vital to the man that Louis becomes, but it seems that one movie struggles to contain such a broad tale.
Much attention is paid to the days drifting on the water, and while these scenes are tense and moving, Jolie leaves herself only enough time to touch on Louis’ pre-war self and to largely gloss over his turmoil while in Japanese custody. Especially in the first half of the film, Jolie pulls us away each time the tension builds, aiming to show how Louis draws on his experiences but mostly serving to create an imbalanced film that makes it difficult to remain fully engrossed.
Are the acting performances strong, suggesting future stardom for the film’s main players?
YES! I should stress again that this is for the most part a highly entertaining and well-acted film. At times Jolie’s direction makes it feel long and thin, but the movie showcases not only great and real men but also talented young actors with bright futures. O’Connell is only 24 and plays Louis with fierce and unrelenting determination. Gleeson (a GWW favorite thanks to his charming performance in About Time) is likable through and through, and he will star in The Force Awakens next year, so he’ll probably become either an enormous star or one scapegoat among the many who failed to reinvigorate the beloved franchise.
There are other strong supporting performances, but these two actors stand out. Learning that Louis and Phil remained lifelong friends is one of the most heartwarming moments in the film, in part thanks to the convincing performances given by the onscreen pals.
Should I pay to see it?
Back to one of the originals! Despite my somewhat lukewarm review to this point, I still vote yes. The acting and story make up for the uneven storytelling in the long run, and one can only fault Jolie so much for trying to make the film as richly entertaining as the source material.
Based on my experience, I would guess that the story may resonate more deeply with older viewers. I am separated from the war not only by time but also by numerous other war films, wars, and stories of atrocities committed against people other than Americans. Of course I root for Louis to endure and triumph, but maybe I don’t do so quite as emphatically as my grandparents or parents. Seventy years has allowed us to see that while an American surviving brutal treatment and conditions is impressive and perhaps uplifting, it is certainly not the most troubling or moving story of the war. We have to look beyond our compatriots for those stories, even to the people whose leaders abused Louis and his peers.
Unbroken tells a fantastic story without sending a powerful message, which is perfectly fine. But many us of want more, knowing that the war chewed up and spit out so much more than one admirable man. Maybe I’m just greedy.