UK Release Date: 26th December 2014
Runtime: 137 minutes
Director: Angelina Jolie
Writer: Coen Brothers, Richard LaGravenese, William Nicholson
Starring: Jack O’Connell, Miyavi, Domhnall Gleeson, Jai Courtney, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock, Luke Treadaway, Vincenzo Amato
Synopsis: A former Olympian finds himself imprisoned in a Japanese prisoner of war camp after a disastrous air crash.
December and January are often the home of Oscar-bait and awards movies in UK cinemas. During this awards season, Unbroken is perhaps the most shamelessly constructed Oscar-grabber. However, it has been given short shrift by almost all of the awards bodies because it, unfortunately, misses the mark almost completely.
Louie Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) is a former Olympic runner, now serving as a bombardier in the US army during World War Two. When his plane is shot down, he and his friend Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) drift on a raft for over a month before being picked up by the Japanese and placed under the stewardship of a psychotic guard known as Bird (Miyavi).
Unbroken is a grubby film that has been liberally coated in a sheen of Hollywood gloss. All of its edge and brutality is completely covered up by the shiny package in which it is presented. This is the mark of a filmmaker obsessed with putting together a prestige biopic, regardless of whether this is the best way in which to tell the story.
| "If you can take it, you can make it."
The story told by Unbroken is certainly a remarkable one and it definitely deserves to be told on the big screen. However, the film is so in love with the story itself that it doesn’t spare any time to develop the characters. Although we identify with the turmoil of the characters, we don’t know enough about them to have any real sympathy.
None of that takes anything away from Jack O’Connell’s central performance. Unbroken is his big American bow after spending the rest of 2014 impressing in British indies Starred Up and ‘71. O’Connell adopts a pitch-perfect Stateside accent and does what he can with the lax material, which flatly refuses to give him any character meat to use. The failure of Unbroken is not his failure.
Equally, the rest of the cast cannot be blamed given the level of the work they deliver in the film. Domhnall Gleeson lays himself bare as a fellow prisoner of war and Japanese musician Miyavi makes an incendiary acting debut as the vicious warden of the camp, responsible for much of Zamperini’s suffering.
| "Who is the Olympic athlete?"
Even Angelina Jolie’s direction is relatively competent. She directs the early aerial dogfight sequences with genuine tension and brio, but clearly loses interest when the story ventures back into Zamperini’s childhood. It’s clear that Jolie’s enthusiasm lies with the third act POW part of the story, which leaves the rest of the film feeling rather slapdash and rushed, despite its Hollywood gloss.
It’s difficult to escape the feeling with Unbroken that this is the right story being told by the wrong film. Four screenwriters, including the Coen Brothers, worked on the script, but it still feels misshapen and lacking in any real depth. In its quest to harness Americana and patriotism for awards glory, Unbroken has rid itself of identity.
Pop or Poop?
There’s a lot going for Unbroken, from Jolie’s stylish direction to the terrific central performance from Jack O’Connell. However, there’s a distinct lack of a heart at the centre of the film.
This feels like a glossy Hollywood version of a down and dirty story. It’s got all of the sheen, but none of the class.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.