Thursday, January 1, 2015

Movie Review: "Unbroken" (2014)

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Director: Angelina Jolie
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 2 hours, 17 minutes

Louis Zamperini (Jack O'Connell) is a former Olympian and officer serving as a bombardier during WWII.  While he and his plane crew are on a rescue mission, their own plane malfunctions and crashes into the ocean. The few survivors of the crash are stuck to live on a life raft hoping help will come before they starve to death. Eventually they are rescued, but unfortunately, it's by the Imperial Japanese Navy and they are immediately taken into custody as prisoners of war. Louis is placed in a prison camp, where the head of the camp, Corporeal Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara), takes a particular dislike to him, often torturing Louis and making his internment there a living hell. 

Angelina Jolie, the director, not the actress, seems like she's made it her mission to make movies that matter, or if you prefer, Oscar-baity films. While the story of Louis Zamperini is quite harrowing and has all of the elements of what should be an award-worthy film, there is something lacking in both the story itself and this movie adaptation of it. For a movie with what should, for all intents and purposes, be a powerful story of triumph during a time of adversity, "Unbroken" fails to connect on many levels. When you get down to it, Zamperini survived the war, battered but not broken, with his life intact and that's pretty much the end of the story. Sure, many, many decades later, he ran with the Olympic torch back in Japan, but this movie doesn't go into much of anything that happened to him after the war outside of a few blurbed outlines of text at the end of the film. This movie is little more than a series of unfortunate circumstances shown on screen. All we know is what happened to the man, but we never truly get to know Zamperini himself apart from the fact that the man could take a beating. Its heart might be in the right place, but "Unbroken," as a whole, left us feeling sort of "meh." Plus, the most climactic scene in the entire movie is shown in full in the film's trailer and on the poster for the movie, which leaves no real surprise and takes away the impact that scene should have had on audiences.

As the movie starts, it feels like all of the acting begins pretty shakily, even that of relative newcomer Jack O'Connell, who plays Zamperini. It all seems very wooden and stiff, almost as if it were read straight from the pages of the script with no emotion whatsoever. It should be noted that we saw him giving an interview with Conan O'Brien recently and he was sort of a wooden dick during that, too, so maybe that's just his personality?? In the second half of the film, after the actors have lost large amounts of weight, the acting is stepped up a notch or two, but it still isn't spectacular, to say the least. It's almost as if a break was taken in between filming either prior to or after the principal actors would have lost enough weight for their roles. If there was a break, which we're assuming there was, did it make them more connected to their characters and understand them better? The most notable acting in the film is that of Takamasa Ishihara, the antagonist of the film, who plays a Japanese corporeal, and later sergeant, with relative ease. His great, commanding negative presence on the screen is the only character we liked in this film, even though he is the bad guy. One thing we really liked about the movie that must be mentioned is the casting. The young actor who played young Louis Zamperini and Jack O'Connell looked so much alike, we thought they were related. They aren't, but damn if they didn't get that casting perfectly.

All in all, this movie feels a little bit misguided in its approach to Zamperini's story, and this is, in large part, due to its lack of direction on the part of Angelina Jolie. It's all a bunch of dramatic weight loss and time spent waiting and waiting to be found at sea and beating after torture after brutality with no real substance behind it. There are better and more immersive true stories that have been brought to life out of the atrocities of World War II. Even other movies from 2014 left us feeling more satisfied and connected with what we had just watched and "experienced," "The Railway Man," for one.

My Rating: 6/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.0/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 51%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?
One year ago, we were watching: "Frozen"

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