Starring: Jack O’Connell, Garrett Hedlund, Domhnall Gleeson, Finn Wittrock, Takamasa Ishihara. Directed by Angelina Jolie. Written by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, William Nicholson, Richard LaGravenese. Action, biography, drama. 2hr 17min. Mfor violence.
From the comfort of our suburban lives, it is almost impossible to imagine enduring 45 days on a raft in the Pacific Ocean.
War stories of incredible survival aren’t unusual, though.
My family’s cache of legends includes one about my grandfather spending two weeks on a raft in the Atlantic at the end of World War II.
I have a friend whose grandmother survived Dachau concentration camp, and another whose father was forced to join the German army, deserted and walked from Poland to London to escape.
That’s why, even though her film is not very good, Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, based on the story of Olympic runner Louie Zamperini’s wartime experiences, is important.
Unbroken follows Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), whose brother convinces him to take up running to learn discipline and prove he’s better than the petty crimes he’s committed and the casual racism he faces.
Louie makes it into the 1936 United Olympic team.
Afterwards, when the United States joins the war, Louie enlists as a bombardier and is stationed in the Pacific, flying bombing raids on Japanese factories.
When his plane crashes in the ocean, he and two others are stranded with little chance of rescue.
After surviving 45 days on rainwater, shark meat and sheer determination, they are found by the Japanese.
That’s when Louie’s real nightmare begins.
Jolie is clearly passionate about Zamperini’s tale and has thrown everything at it – a soaring score, an interesting cast (rock star Takamasa Ishihara as the sadistic Watanabe is chillingly good), the Coen Brothers ( Fargo, No Country for Old Men, Inside Llewyn Davis) on script duty and historical detail up the wazoo, all shot by a top-drawer cinematographer.
Unfortunately, while everything about Unbroken is slick, it is obvious, ham-fisted and not a little desperate. Unbroken fails to land any of its emotional punches and ends up feeling more like unbelievable melodrama than inspirational homage.
As the hyperbole rushes towards the anticlimactic ending, padded out with images of the real Zamperini, you can’t help feeling the hero’s tale has not been well served.
True tales of outstanding fortitude, like Zamperini’s, remind us of the limits our minds and bodies can be pushed to.
As we wrap ourselves in layers of comfort, such tales are crucial, and deserve better than some mawkish, pretty faces and glossy artifice, no matter who the director is.