Film Review – Unbroken (2014)


Title – Unbroken (2014)

Director – Angelina Jolie (In the Land of Blood and Honey)

Cast – Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund, Takamasa Ishihara, Jai Courtney

Plot – Based on the true life story of Olympic runner turned POW Louis Zamperini (O’Connell) and his trials over adversity in the harsh conditions of World War 2.

“If I can take it, I can make it”

Review by Eddie on 2/02/2015

It would be right to ask how such an incredible and out of the ordinary true life story could become such an ordinary run of the mill film? The answer however can’t be easily given. Is it “spoilt-brat” Angelina Jolie’s stoic yet uninspired direction? A weakish script that no less than 4 accomplished writers including the Coen Brothers worked on? Perhaps it’s the fine yet strangely emotionally distant performances from the films leads? What makes Unbroken such an impressively average film could be anyone of these things and it’s a shame that this once touted Oscar contender is what it is.

So many things in Unbroken scream quality, from the hugely impressive and well-staged opening aerial dogfight, the often stunning frames captured by legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins through to the committed and perhaps star making turn from up and coming superstar Jack O’Connell, there is without question a lot of finely crafted movie making on show here yet it’s not enough to suggest Unbroken is anything but middle tier.

This feeling of fluctuation between high quality and hallmark movie staples stems from a not always consistent flow, a challenge the filmmakers no doubt had when trying to adapt Laura Hillenbrand’s extensive and well renowned biography of Louis Zamperini. Zamperini’s stunning life so vividly captured on page fly’s by in mere minutes on screen and in some instances disappears all together while other key moments of his life such as his terrible ordeal on the open oceans during World War 2 take up large chunks of the films 130 minute run time. We get these key scenes to make us feel some of Zamperini’s overcoming’s yet we never feel invested in the man, for such an horrific and human courage filled story, the film barely ever draws out emotion from the viewer and this can only be attributed to the fact we never feel invested in a character we don’t really get know, it’s certainly not from bad acting.

Jack O’Connell, so impressive in the recent film Starred Up, does a commendable and committed job at bringing this larger to life figure to screen, yet with a role that is at times utterly underwritten and un-fleshed out, he can only do so much. Unbroken is absolutely Louis’s story and we never get a proper feel for who this man is and from those around him like Garret Hedlund’s fellow POW Fitzgerald through to Domhnall Gleeson’s pilot Phil, we also don’t get much of a feel for those that surrounded Zamperini through his darkest hours. Other elements of his life such as his youth and time as an Olympic runner get the short shift as victims of the films aforementioned flow troubles.

Unbroken is very far from a bad film but it’s also not a great one by a very large margin. Jolie in her second feature film as director shows a keen eye for an image and a casting choice yet on the basis of this effort, has yet to master the art of getting the audience to invest themselves emotionally into such a tale that so easily could’ve become a war set classic. It seems as though if you’ve yet to discover Zamperini’s tale for yourself, the source novel on which this is based upon should be your first point of call.

3 token Oscar nominations out of 5

20 responses to “Film Review – Unbroken (2014)

  1. Wow! While I respect your point of view, II so strongly disagree. I really had to sit a while to compose myself when the movie was done. My sister who lives in Ohio had the same reaction. We just thought it was amazing on every level. What also brought it home for us is that our Dad ran track (he even did the Boston Marathon) and was a WWII vet who fought in the Pacific. And he used to wear the same kind of cap that Zamporini wore at the end (the real life clip). I thought that despite being a spoiled brat, Jolie did a terrific job.
    There is a much smaller movie also based on a real life story that was done in about 2001 called “To End All Wars,” also about life in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, that is very affecting. It’s worth seeking out.

    • Hi Joan, thanks so much for sharing these thoughts. I wanted to feel more from this movie I really did but just couldn’t, my wife who is a big fan of the book felt very similar. I’d love to see Jolie really find overall success with her next flick despite Unbroken being a decent box office hit.

  2. Good review Eddie. Felt too plain and simple to really hit as hard as it maybe would have liked. Still though, it was a film worth seeing, if only because it’s serviceable, at best.

  3. I eventually would like to see this film. Your reviews are always professionally written except for those nagging spelling and grammatical errors. But the message is intact. Whether I agree with it will depend on what my own analysis of the film is after an eventual viewing.

  4. Average is a great way to describe this film. I also felt like the portrayal of the Allied soldiers as universally heroic and the portrayal of the Japanese as universally loathsome took away from the emotional impact of the film.

  5. Nice review! I was wondering why the film has not had the ratings I thought it would. Still need to see the film but part of the reason I think films like this fall short is because there are so many war sagas. Many stories have already been told– we need to find a new way to tell/show them.

    • Hi Sarah I do agree mostly but this story has many unique elements they just really didn’t utilise to the best of the stories ability and it did end up feeling generic when it should of felt far from it.

  6. I have read the book as well as experienced the movie. After reading such an amazing biography of Louis life the. watching the movie I left the cinemas feeling let down and appalled at what was made of the film. The book held so many raw, detailed and touching experiences where you are in awe of this incredible mans life, watching the movie didn’t give me this same experience and was disappointing that they didn’t make the audience feel and see the real anguish this man went through. I know they can only fit so much in movie but a lot which I felt was very important was missed out. Firstly you didn’t see how bad the starvation was within the POW camps and see there suffering of only eating maybe half a cup of rice a day as well as I during physical labor. Secondly Louis wasn’t the only one to be punched in the face by 220 men but 5 other men stood by his side getting the same punishment, this was not portrayed in the film they only showed Louis standing there singularly. Lastly there was no mention or even a quick glance of a newspaper clip of the Hiroshima bombing which is really the bases of ending world war 2. Within the book the POWs within Louis’ camp as well as Louis were well aware that is incident happened and had a shocking effect on the POWS and yet again the film had no mention of such a historical event which finished the war in the first place. In conclusion, from reading the book I was very disappointed how this amazing mans life was portrayed.

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