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Review: Unbroken (2014)

Directed by: | 137 minutes | , , sports, war | Actors: Jack O’Connell, , , , Finn Wittrock, Jai Courtney, , , , Luke Treadaway, , , , John D’Leo, Alex Russell , Jordan Patrick Smith, , Stephen J. Douglas, ,

In ‘Unbroken’, Angelina Jolie finally tells the fascinating life story of athlete Louie Zamperini, a project that has been waiting in Hollywood for decades to be carried out. Jolie showed us in her first feature, ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’, that she is capable of filming war horrors in a cold-blooded way. In ‘Unbroken’ she seems to have lost that touch unfortunately. Yet she also shows us in this that she is in the right place in the director’s chair.

Unbroken tells the story of Louie Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), a former American Olympic athlete who crashed his bomber in the Pacific Ocean in 1943. Together with two companions, he spends 47 grueling days on a life raft, only to be captured by the Japanese afterwards. Zamperini is transferred to various prison camps and here is tortured and maltreated by a sadistic camp commander called The Bird by the POWs.

Jolie is a good filmmaker. Stylistically she is strong in her shoes. She shows this in the impressive opening scene in which American bombers are attacked by Japanese fighter planes, very cleverly portrayed. In her first war drama, however, Jolie was especially amazed with the bravery with which she managed to film the war horrors in an almost detached way. She did not succeed in this at ‘Unbroken’. The director tries so hard to convey the moral of the story (a message of perseverance and strength) that the violence never really gets across. Jolie portrays the torture that Zamperini has to endure almost gratuitously, which creates a distance for the viewer. The empathetic aspect is negated because Jolie wants to show at all costs that Zamperini cannot be broken. The viewer is beaten with clichéd one-liners such as ‘if you can take it, you can make it!’. Jolie is too shy about raw realism and that is a shame.

The director managed to entice the Coen brothers for the screenplay. That is somewhat surprising when you see the film because their influences are almost imperceptible. Here and there ‘Unbroken’ falls into a sticky sentimentality. Moreover, no risks are taken with this story. Everything remains very conventional and well-behaved and in no way is colored outside the lines. This ensures that ‘Unbroken’ is not bad at any time, but it is also not exceptional in any way.

O’Connell presents a dull but charismatic rendition of the war hero. What is disturbing, however, is the very typical, almost caricatural character of the blood-hungry Japanese camp commander. In general, the image portrayed of the Japanese is oversimplified and ‘Unbroken’ has an overly patriotic message. Positivism has gone too far and is almost becoming a mantra. This, in combination with an irritating Christian undertone, creates an insincerity in the film.

Overall, ‘Unbroken’ is not a bad film. But sometimes as a filmmaker you have to be brave enough to portray true pain and humiliation, especially if you take it upon yourself to want to tell a story of this caliber.

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