Unbroken

poster_unbroken

I was pleasantly surprised by Unbroken. Going in, I expected your standard obligatory Oscar bait, which in a way it is, but it’s done incredibly well. The picture is made with enough sincerity that it elevates it above your average Oscar bait. It’s definitely not a movie that I’ll watch over and over again, but I was favorably impressed by it especially because I expected something a lot more dull.

Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connel) is a troubled boy, who gets on track with the encouragement from his brother Peter (Alex Russell). He wows everybody with his ability to run, and eventually makes it all the way to the Berlin Olympics. When WWII breaks out, he serves in the air force in the Pacific. His plane is crashes, and he and his friend Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) spend over 40 days on a raft before they are captured by the Japanese. Louis spends the rest of the war being shuffled from one POW camp to another, all under the sadistic eye of “The Bird” (Miyavi), a Japanese officer who has it out for him.

running_unbroken

As one can imagine even if they haven’t seen any of the marketing materials for the film, this is one of those “based on a true stories” of heroic survival, not giving up, and becoming a better person for your suffering etc etc etc. It’s terrible that this type of story has become a cliche when it is the source of remarkable drama, suffering from the fact that it’s been done (routinely) way too much. This film wouldn’t be any different, if weren’t for the amount of respect Jolie and company reveal toward the subject. Some of the dialogue in the beginning is a bit awkward, but that is the only part of the presentation of this somewhat routine story that feels manipulative.

Anchoring the film is a remarkable performance from Jack O’Connell. He is required to take a lot of punishment, which is difficult enough it itself. However, the most remarkable thing about his performance is the same virtue that the film itself has; it could have quickly gone sappy and manipulative, but it didn’t. He brings an incredible amount of sincerity to Zamperini, making him sympathetic but more importantly, believable.

punches_unbroken

The film is marvelously realized on a technical level. Roger Deakins’ cinematography is wonderful as always, making the images more beautiful than they have any right to be. Though showing beatings, starvation, isolation, and despair, the images are consistently beautiful, matching Zamperini’s strength rather than his situation. The sound design is also pretty impressive, making great use of surround sound especially during the aerial battle scenes.

Unbroken may not be a great film, but it’s better than it could have been. It may stick to the Oscar bait formula, but it does so with such respect, commitment, and sincerity that it makes it more watchable than it otherwise would be. The script may be a bit clunky in places, but O’Connell’s performance and the cinematography more than save it. Unbroken may have played it a bit safe, but it commits to that, and does it well.

plane_unbroken

“If you can take it, you can make it.”

Long story short: 3/4 stars

For Further Reading:

Variety review 
Indiewire review

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10 responses to “Unbroken

    • Hope you get to see it! It really is worth catching in the theater for the sound especially. I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it, but I was pleasently surprised by how good it was.

    • Thanks! I saw it on New Year’s Day actually. It’s definitely worth catching in the theater, but all the same I don’t feel the need to rewatch it.

  1. Maybe I should give this a chance, then. After The Theory O Everything, I refused to be so easily baited again, and the overall reviews are so mixed – but mied always means I might also come to like it…

    • Still haven’t seen The Theory of Everything, and basically avoided it for that reason. I feel like it’s A Beautiful Mind all over again but if it is nominated I will give it look. Just wasn’t willing to see it in the theater.
      This movie definitely is Oscar bait, so keep that in mind. I agree with a lot of the things in the negative reviews I read, but personally they didn’t bother me all that much because the film was so sincere in its portrayal of Zamperini’s struggles. It’s a pretty decent film, but not a great one by any stretch of the imagination.

    • Thanks! I totally get that. Yet I was able to latch onto the main character all the same and ended up enjoying the movie, even if I’ll probably never see it again.

  2. Oh I haven’t seen the poster you featured here, very dramatic. Y’know, I decided to just rent this one later. I have a feeling I’d like it more if I hadn’t read much about Lou Zamperini and how the film left out much of his spirituality post-war and how his faith helped him to forgive his captors. I think that part is as big a miracle as him surviving the prison camps, to me anyway, so leaving that part out seems like an incomplete story.

    • Fair enough. They really just tack on that stuff after the war on at the end, most of it is him being stranded at sea/tortured. It would have been interesting to see that if they had cut the wartime stuff down. As it was, I thought it was a pretty decent movie.
      Sorry for the delay in responding; my laptop’s broken and it’s been hard for me to blog :/

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