Director: Angelina Jolie
Cast: Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock, John Magaro, Alex Russell, Miyavi
Length: 137 minutes
Opening: Now showing
Plot: Young Olympian runner Louis Zamperini finds his career halted due to the commencement of World War II. Drafted to serve as a master bombardier in Hawaii, a near-fatal plane crash during a mission saw the New York-born Italian American spend a record 47 days adrift at sea, before being caught by the Japanese navy. Sent to Yokohama, Japan and then made a prisoner of war, Zamperini endured constant brutal treatment and harsh labour.
THE film is adapted from The New York Times best seller Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand, who also authored Seabiscuit, the book that inspired its namesake award-winning film. Staying on the best seller list for three years, Unbroken’s story is one that resonates with the core of our humanity, its strength, vulnerability, frailty, darkness and amidst it all, hope.
The late Louis “Lucky Louie” Zamperini, who passed away before the film was released on July 2 last year, had an incredible life — one that also had all the ingredients of an award-contending, dramatic movie. Born in Olean, New York in 1917 before moving to Torrance, California during the Great Depression, Zamperini’s growing years was one marked by listless rebellion and unthinking troublemaking.
In his teenage years, he was spurred by his older brother to turn some of that restless energy into competitive distance running. Soon, he was the inter-school record holder, winning himself a scholarship to the University of Southern California. In 1936, at age 18, Zamperini competed in Germany as part of the US Olympic track team.
In Unbroken the film, these are relayed to the audience in flashbacks, focusing on key moments rather than in narrative sequence. Adapted by the award-winning Coen brothers — Joel and Ethan (Fargo, The Big Lebowski, True Grit, Inside Llewyn Davis), it is only natural that their latest effort would be one aimed for awards — whether consciously or otherwise.
The movie, which marks Angelina Jolie’s second directorial effort, has, however, been thoroughly snubbed at the major awards this season, The Academy Awards included.
It is not entirely surprising, having now seen the film, throughout which there was a running thought that stayed till the end — I know I’m having every emotion squeezed out of me. Jolie’s eye for capturing and evoking moments certainly brought out the story, but at various points it felt like her eagerness to sell the “Survival, Resilience, Redemption” tag line was tipping the edge towards contrivances.
There isn’t really anything wrong with the film — that’s the crux of it — the formula was well applied, all the ingredients placed in without a thing out of step. The enormous effort needed to condense and pace such a significant history would already be a difficult task — Jolie does it adequately well.
But somehow, there seems to be a deep and an organic sense of rawness that the film could not reach.
Don’t get me wrong. This is a movie worth watching, and I strongly recommend that you do (bring some tissues), but that is a credit to Zamperini’s inspiring and indomitable spirit, as well as his fantastic yet true tale of survival.
Stepping out from the cinema after being brought to such a sense of awareness, it feels like you just want to go out into the sun and stare up into the sky (hopefully on a clear day) and breathe in deeply.
And in the midst of what is going on in the world today, his story and the ones of his fellow soldiers are a poignant and powerful reminder that it takes much more courage and strength to live, than to embrace death. As for Jolie, her biggest credit is choosing such a compelling story to tell.
This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on February 18, 2015.