“Unbroken” is based on the true story of Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell). An Olympian turned war hero, Zamperini must overcome incredible odds in order to return home to his family after being thrown into a Japanese POW camp. With beautiful cinematography, solid acting, and perfect source material, “Unbroken” aims to become the next classic, American war film, however Angelina Jolie’s directorial effort falls short.
The cinematography is easily the film’s strongest point. The director of photography, Roger Deakins (“Skyfall,” “No Country for Old Men,” “The Shawshank Redemption”), is a master at his craft. Like most of his films, you could pull out nearly any frame in the movie and have an image worthy of a poster. Parts of “Unbroken” are paced incredibly slow, but its much less of a problem when every shot is so beautiful.
The acting is solid overall. Jack O’Connell is completely believable in every situation he is put in. As the film’s protagonist, Zamperini is continually punched in the gut (literally and figuratively), and O’Connell portrays that with realism. Domhnall Gleeson is solid. The film appeared to be setting him up as the second lead, but his character, Phil, is completely abandoned a third of the way into the movie. Garrett Hedlund, Jai Courtney, and Finn Wittrock are all good in their limited roles. Unfortunately, the only character that stands out is Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara), but he stands out for all the wrong reasons. Ishihara is over the top and almost cartoony. It is jarring that the antagonist, of an otherwise grounded and solemn film, is so ridiculous.
Something is just off about “Unbroken.” It seems like a combination of poor directing and writing, which is odd considering the writers, the Coen brothers, are two of the best in the business. The pacing is uneven. The beginning of the film feels well-paced as it cuts between soldier-Zamperini and teenage/Olympian-Zamperini, but the last two thirds of the movie are all over the place. The characters are all static. Nobody in this movie appears to have any character development. Zamperini is the stubborn child of Italian immigrants who was raised to never give up despite the odds. He does that through the entire movie, but we never see how this changes him as a person. He just appears to be an indestructible force of a man, and we rarely see anything deeper than that. “If I can take it, I can make it,” is repeated throughout the film, but the film doesn’t do a good job of driving that point home. The worst thing that can be said about “Unbroken” is that Zamperini is exactly the same at the beginning of the movie as at the end.
“Unbroken” is an ambitious movie and shows glimpses of being something greater. There are a lot of things to like about it, however there are also a few glaring weaknesses. Angelina Jolie seems to have potential. There are definitely scenes that show that, but “Unbroken” may have been better suited for a director with more experience. “Unbroken” is an enjoyable watch, but isn’t a film that will stay with you.