“Be Moved” is Sony’s current corporate slogan but I’m thinking that “Be Hacked” might be a more worthy mantra.
I’m sure you’ve all heard about their recent hacking woes because of the film about assassinating North Korea’s leader: The Interview. Part of that hacked material were internal emails claiming that Angelina Jolie is “a minimally talented spoiled brat” with a “rampaging ego”. Egotistical spoilt brat she may be but minimally talented? Let’s find out.
Unbroken is her directorial debut and is one that certainly doesn’t pull any punches. If you haven’t heard anything about it; the film is based on a true story and is centered around Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) an unruly dropout kid who ends up being rather brilliant at running. He becomes a high school track star and even runs in 1936 Berlin olympics. Louis’ dream is to win a medal in the forthcoming Tokyo olympics in 1940 but the outbreak of world war 2 sees him drafted in as a aircraft bombardier. After his Plane goes down, presumably somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, he is captured and becomes a Japanese prisoner of war.
What’s great about the film is that you really aren’t sure if he is going to live or die. The film could easily be tales recanted by those who knew him or it could be his auto-biography. The film achieves this by having frequent aspects of danger thrown at Louis’ life and this also helps to keep the pace of the film always moving. Whilst this was quite a long film it never felt boring or slow but neither did it ever particularly zip along.
I realise the film is meant to be about Louis but part of this world is his relationship with fellow officer Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) and this is one of the areas where the film falls down. Jack’s chemistry with almost all of his fellow compatriots doesn’t have enough time to properly gel and there isn’t even instant chemistry to make you believe that he and Phil are best friends. This is a trend that continues with the other POWs he meets along the way.
I’m really happy to see Jack O’Connell playing a lead role because I think he is an excellent actor. I missed the chance to ’71 – his last film as a lead role – but was impressed with him Starred Up. Both of those films are gritty and brutal and it’s nice to see a softer side to O’Connell; a quiet, introspective, performance that is the antithesis of Starred Up proves that he has range as an actor if nothing else.
Another standout performance was that of Takamasa Ishihara who plays Watanabe; the captain at the POW camp. Watanabe is clearly psychotic and most likely a sadist as he seems to enjoy beating up the POWs and as mentioned above the film doesn’t pull any punches in this respect. There is a cold glint in Ishihara’s eyes that screams the same traits as Watanabe’s listed above and weirdly the chemistry between Ishihara and O’Connell is probably the one that has the most spark. This really helps you get invested in both these two integral characters.
Angelina Jolie could quite easily have slipped down the “Murica! Fuck yeah!” route but thankfully manages to avoid making the sweeping connotation that all Japanese people are pitiless brutes lacking any sort of remorse. One scene does show an unknown civilian part of Japan that is now lying in ruins which again helps to keep neutral balance of good vs evil which in turn keeps the focus on the individual characters in the film.
The climax of the film is the lifting of the beam, which is the image on the poster of the film. Without going to much into detail for fear of spoilers the scene is both heart-warming and saddening at the same time.
Whilst the story is hugely compelling and the acting is on point for the majority of the cast this well shot directorial debut is not without it’s faults. The main criticism here is the editing where shots seem to linger too long or be cut too short all too often. It’s often jarring.
Furthermore the narrative structure is disjointed. The start of the film leads with modern day interspersed with flashbacks of Louis’ past. This is fine on it’s own, after all there are numerous examples of films utilising broken chronology to build a film, but this story telling method stops after 30 minutes so the feel of the start of the film is totally different to the middle and end which spends all of 20 seconds in a brief flashback for the rest of the film.
I’m not sure if it was the disjointed approach or just a rather undramatic action scene at the start of the film but I was starting to wonder if this would be 2 hours of wasted time. Thankfully things really start picking up when Louis’s plane crashes.
Considering it’s Jolie’s first film in the director’s chair it’s a very good debut. Sure it’s not without it’s faults but its something that can easily be addressed in future films. Whether Jolie really is egotistical I couldn’t tell you but this moving and touching piece on Louis Zamperini’s life clearly shows that Jolie’s talent is far greater than minimal.
- Moving and touching true story
- The beam lift scene
- Jack O’Connell
- Poor editing
- Lacking chemistry between some of the characters
- Starts a bit dull