The extraordinary true story of Louis Silvie Zamperini, an Olympic athlete and World War II Survivor, is poorly handled and melodramatically delivered in Angelina Jolie’s second directorial effort. Unbroken, which had the potential to be a powerful and emotional journey of the strength of the human spirit, instead is boring, cheesy, and weightless. It does not invest you in its characters, and it rides on the fact that this story is just too incredible to believe, but that’s to no credit of the film.
Jack O’Connell delivers a strong performance as Louis, a young Italian boy whose family is new to America, who gets bullied for his heritage, and in turn has a rough childhood. He discovers a talent for running track-in fact, breaking records with his speed and endurance, and soon is sent to the Olympics in Berlin. This all is halted when he is enlisted into the army, fighting in World War II and miraculously surviving a plane crash and holding on to life for two months in a life boat with two other men. As if this wasn’t harrowing enough, his return to land is welcomed by a Japanese POW camp that tortures him and challenges his talent for survival for months.
The film has some intense moments, but the overall cringe-worthy screenplay ruins the power of this story. The hook of the film is literally, “if you can take it, you can make it”. While this is an epic story of strength and survival, and the perseverance and charisma of Louis Zamperini, his story is belittled into a quality of film you’d likely find in a Hallmark TV movie. The visuals are a little too pristine, especially for a gritty war tale, and it adds an extra element that takes away from the realism. The performances are all around useless, Jack O’Connell is clearly a good actor but he is given so little to work with in terms of character. Everyone in this movie feels so archetypal, there’s no true personality to anyone in the film. Takamasa Ishihara who plays Watanabe, the leader of the POW camp, never feels threatening enough and is again, a light version of what truly could have been a villainous and frightening man.
Unbroken in the end is so disappointing, because it had great potential, and also neglects some of the more interesting aspects of Louis Zamperini’s story, that those who have read the biography by Laura Hillenbrand would be familiar with, and who even the audience gets a glimpse at in the end credits. There is an even more interesting story to be told about Louis’ life post-WWII, and unfortunately the film skips this, as well as many of the other more humanistic and less flashy aspects of this story.
The narrative as it’s told in the film is also quite jumpy and distracting, as it jumps back and forth with the most atrocious cross-fades that a motion picture of this caliber features. Angelina Jolie should maybe stick to acting, or at least tackle a story a little less ambitious, because it is clear that in the hands of a better director (and better writers), Unbroken could have really been something to talk about-and in a much more astonishing light than what this film offers-a lacklustre version of an epic story.