Unbroken – Review

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Starring: Jack O’Connell, Takamasa Ishihara, Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock
Based on the Novel of the same name by: Laura Hillenbrand
Adapted for the Screen by: Joel Coen & Ethan Coen and Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson
Directed by: Angelina Jolie
Metacritic Score: 59
IMDb Score: 7.2
Nominated for 3 Academy Awards, including Best Cinematography (Roger Deakins), Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing

Rated PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language

World War II is the most used war, either as a backdrop or as a literal plot device, that film has ever used. With that, there are some incredible movies that were made with that war: Patton, The Thin Red Line, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, Das Boot, Casablanca…hell, even recent movies like Inglorious Basterds, Downfall, Letters From Iwa Jima, The Pianist. There are even incredible documentaries about the subject, such as Shoah and Triumph of the Will (which is a propaganda film).

Basically what I’m saying is this: if you are making a World War II movie, you are going to be compared to a lot of great, harrowing stories.

Unbroken‘s angle is that it tells the story of former olympian Louis Zamperini (O’Connell), the story of which is leads him from being marooned in the ocean for 47 days to in a Japanese POW camp, where he’s systematically tortured and mistreated.

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The thing is: Unbroken’s angle isn’t an entirely new angle. Not even counting movies set in concentration camps, films like The Great Escape and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence immediately come into mind when it comes to great movies set in POW camps.

The only differentiation Unbroken has is the fact that Zamperini is a former olympian and he seems to have a lot of bad luck in a long stretch of time. Literally, there is little else that makes this movie different, even when it comes to the main character.

Because of this, the movie just seems to hit the same notes that better WWII films have already tread. The movie really doesn’t do anything new or has anything that will give you an emotional link to the character. Well, that’s if the character had any kind of traits or things to attach yourself to.

No disrespect to the actual man who lived through this, but the film doesn’t do anything to make you learn about Zamperini the person. Zamperini’s character can literally be chalked up to this: Olympic athlete who becomes a POW and gets beat up…a lot. There’s literally no depth to this character: he is just simply a vessel for you to watch the movie from.

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The film, which is shot in more of a classic war film sense, doesn’t seem the need to justify why this story needs to be seen. As what could be considered a throwback to classic movies, it misses in some key areas, including character development and the sense of emotional weight the characters are put in.

It’s hard to really find where the fault exactly lies: Jolie’s passive and boring direction or O’Connell’s bland and lifeless performance. Jolie’s direction is fairly tepid and underwhelming: pacing is pretty rough (the raft scenes literally slow the movie to a crawl) and the way the film is shot, whether by composition or for visual fidelity, is rather boring and lifeless.

Then you have O’Connell, who seems to be channeling the depth of a cardboard box to bring Zamperini to life. It’s hard to feel struggle or to be connected to a character when he just seems to blend in with the scenery: O’Connell at times is hard to even pick out in scenes, mainly because he looks just as lifeless as the rest of the cast and does nothing to differentiate himself.

The movie was either in dire need of a re-edit, a re-casting or just a re-write, because it doesn’t feel like a movie that was properly constructed. The film literally goes through different framework devices: the beginning to the point he is captured, it continually shifts time periods from when he was a kid to a soldier to an Olympian, etc.

Then, the film seems to turn into another film once it gets into the POW camp, which also is strangely paced. It feels like that this, truly, was the main story they wanted to tell, but they had to incorporate Zamperini’s story so they added the first hour and a half as a preamble. Yet, when you’re in the camp, you have no connection to anyone in the movie, including the character you’ve been following the entire time.

The movie uses convenient, emotionally manipulative contexts in exchange for actual nuanced depth. Why is Zamperini so strong? America, that’s why! What keeps him fighting? America, fool! Where does he find this strength? Jesus, that’s who!

It’s fine to have these reasons, but without the context to support everything, like in the movie Born on the Fourth of July, it just feels like an empty receptacle to put inspirational phrases in. I’m half surprised there wasn’t a cat holding on to a clothesline telling Zamperini to “hang in there!” at some point.

Lastly, and I might be one of the few people who actually feel this way, but a PG-13 War movie is now becoming a sure sign that it’s a war movie that is neutered. You are subjected to violent plane crashes, starvation, abuse, torture with canes and being beaten up and bloodied constantly…but it doesn’t really feel like there’s a power to it at all.

I’m not asking to go Tarantino and give the movie tons of blood and guts, but violence is a foregone conclusions when seeing a war film. Meaning: if the guy just got punched in the face by every single person in a POW camp as a form of punishment, he shouldn’t just have a few scrapes and bruises. Saving Private Ryan taught that as long as the violence is tasteful and on point, audiences are okay with sitting through an uncomfortable scene or two of extreme and gory violence, so long as there’s a purpose to it.

The only plus the film has is the cinematography, which is also unfortunately overridden by what feels like a lack of direction. Lighting is excellent as well as the various colors in certain places in the film, most notably the raft scenes.

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A few films I’ve watched over the years have had me leaving the movie asking “What the hell went wrong with the movie?”. Very few films have me asking “Why was this even made?” Unbroken is the latter, unfortunately. It isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen in a long time, but it’s definitely one I sat through in it’s 2 hour and 30 minute runtime and felt like I completely wasted my time.

And for someone who can get some joy out of bad movies, the fact is that there wasn’t much of anything to derive from. It’s literally 2 1/2 hours of a movie that has been done better multiple times over.

1/5 – Quite literally unnecessary, Jolie’s boring direction and O’Connell’s emotionless performance bring down a film that has questionable reasons to even be looked upon.

The Wiz Says #25

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