Is beau­ti­ful, but im­per­sonal

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

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.

Let

the

Bul­lets

Fly

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 DONG / CHINA DAILY

Jiang is one of the most con­tro­ver­sial film direc­tors in China.

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