Is beautiful, but impersonal
Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling book. Her respect for Zamperini’s story is evident from the start. By the end, though, the gaze turns reverential and distant as his experiences become more foreign and obscured.
Unbroken kicks off with a bang. A gorgeous air battle places the audience in the middle of World War II, not caring to introduce you to the boys in the B-24 bomber.
In fact, Jack O’Connell is such a newcomer and looks so different in this film with his distractingly jet black hair that the first fewminutes are a little disorienting as you try to figure out just who is the star of the movie. That’s a strange handicap when you cast an unknown.
From there, the film fades in and out of flashbacks to Zamperini’s Torrance, California childhood and his unlikely ascent to athletic greatness.
There, in Godfather sepia, wesee a very young Zamperini smoking, drinking, looking up girls’ skirts and not paying attention at church. But his brother pushes him to focus, and soon enough, his family realizes they’ve got a star on their hands.
Zamperini, before enlisting in the Air Force to fight in the war, was a track star who ran in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Though fairly straightforward, his racing scenes are amongthe most exciting of the movie. He’s a guy who saves his best for the final moments. It’s immediate and thrilling.
Thewartime “present”, however, has the feel of a lengthy montage, especially when Zamperini and his mates are stranded after their plane crashes in the Pacific. He and two crewmates survived on a raft at sea for 47 days, only to be captured by the Japanese and put into a brutal prisonerof-war camp.
Early on in the first ordeal, we get a glimpse of Zamperini’s selfless leadership as he tries to calm a panicked peer and tend to a wounded other, but it’s fleeting.
Then it becomes a series of moments — flashes of misery on a boat as we peek in on the men in various stages of decay.
It strips the experience of any arc or thrill. Jolie even plops us down in the middle of Contact the writer at raymondzhou@ chinadaily.com.cn a violent storm. This should be electrifying to watch and experience along with Zamperini. Instead, she shows him bobbing up and down in the black waves, makinga plea withGod to get him out alive.
For such a high-stakes scene, it’s oddly lifeless.
There’s also a missed opportunity for an emotional gut punch when Zamperini is separated from his friend. It seems like Jolie was possibly aiming for subtlety here. Instead, we just feel robbed.
When he gets to the POW camp, we’re introduced to a sadistic prison guard (played by Japanese rock starMiyavi), whose sole purpose seems to be to beat Zamperini at every possible moment.
But again, without
any inquiry into what inspired Zamperini to endure, the endless brutality falls flat.
O’Connell’s performance is strong and steadfast with moments of greatness and deep vulnerability, but it fails to inspire an emotional response from the audience.
Jolie hasn’t done a disservice to Zamperini’s life, but it’s hard to know what she was trying to tell.
It’s Zamperini’s story in fact and circumstance, but somehow, he feels like an enigma.
Unbroken, a Universal release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for “war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language”. Running time: 137 minutes.
Jiang is one of the most controversial film directors in China.