Film Review: Unbroken

Written by the Coen Brothers and directed by Angelina Jolie, Unbroken tells the story of Louis Zamperini, an Italian American Olympic athlete who faced extraordinary peril, suffering and abuse during World War 2. And with the writing talents of the Coens’ entrusted to Jolie, now looking to make a name for herself as much behind the camera as in front, I had really high hopes for this film.

The first thing that really struck me though is the clarity of the film making. Everything felt clean and fresh. It feels like the war time of the 1940s, but it also feels bright, new, recently unwrapped. You are there, nothing is hidden by artificial weathering in an attempt to portray a bygone era. And while some may bemoan Jolie for dressing the set in this way, I personally commend her. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s old.

Life Raft - Gleeson - OConnell - Unbroken

However, while I may have appreciated the set dressing, to begin with I found the rest of the film slightly monotonous and slow. It takes a very, very long time to really get going and decide which direction it’s heading in. Whilst I understand that it wants to lay out the key points in Zamperini’s life, to help define him as a character, I personally just felt there was too much padding. That a few key frames in the timeline could have easily been dropped without effected the narrative tale.

When it does get going though, and attempts to pick up the pace, it still never really breaks stride. The whole underlying current of the film is about one man’s endurance and commitment but Jolie brings this to life through length and time, rather than anything emotional. And while I understand the reasoning behind this technique, for me the end result was to make a long film, feel even longer. I came out having watched two-and-a-quarter hours but feeling like I’ve marched past three.

While all the allied casting is good and believable, I sadly felt that Takamasa Ishihara as the main antagonist “The Bird” just looked too young. He shoulders a lot of responsibility and power and yet seems to hold a lowly rank and a look of youth. Which conflicted with the fact I know he existed and was real. It’s hard to really accept a character and settle into their presence when you are questioning their on screen portrayal.

Jack O'Connell - Unbroken

I do however have one big problem with Unbroken though. As a film I truly don’t think it knows what it wants to be, I don’t think it could quite decide how to look at the individual aspects of his life and tie them together. There are parts of this film that are very focused on Zamperini, childhood events, atheletic achievements; all eyes purely on him shutting out the rest of the world, but it’s not done with enough depth and it’s left me honestly feeling like I still don’t know the man; or what makes him tick? But then the flip side is also true and that, when it looks at the war as a whole, or his time in the Prisoner of War Camps and the actions of the Japanese to their captives, it changes from being directly focused on him to being an overview of his timeline. Seemingly, picking up a narrative and commentary that widens the focus beyond one character, trying to make it’s speech, it’s point, but without the voice to do so.

And combined, they simply create a film that sits there, slowly simmering away, teasing, hinting, feeling like it has more to give, a stronger stance to take, but never boiling over. Just sitting, waiting.

I don’t think that helps that aside for a few moments of attrition, the relationship between Louis & The Bird, that is essentially at the heart of most of the film, never really heightens any emotions in you. I certainly wasn’t siding either positively or negatively against either character. Or moved emotional by their actions. I think because you never really understand the motives or reasons beyond a very superficial explanation, it’s hard to really build the emotional connections you need. You want to, but it just never happens.

Don’t bypass Unbroken because I am finding faults with it. Yes it certainly has it’s problems, it’s flaws, but for all over them, I did enjoy it. There is a better film hiding just below the surface, and if I’m honest, I think that I enjoyed The Railway Man, who’s plot essentially echoes this, more. But I’m glad I’ve seen it, and as a start to 2015, it’s more than acceptable.

7 out of 10 stars (7 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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