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.
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.
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.
“If you can take it, you can make it.”
Long story short: 3/4 stars
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