Thursday, February 19, 2015

Review of UNBROKEN: Incomplete Inspiration

February 19, 2015

"Unbroken" tells the life story of Louis Zamperini, based on the 2010 non-fiction book written by Laura Hillenbrand entitled "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption." After touching a bit about Zamperini's childhood and his Olympic career as a runner, the rest of the film would only focus on two of his life's most harrowing experiences.  

Zamperini survived 47 days in a liferaft with two fellow crewmen when their bomber plane was damaged in midair and crashed in the ocean. However, Day 47 at sea was also the day they were picked up and made prisoners by the Japanese Navy and sent to a P.O.W. camp. Zamperini faced the relentless sadism of Mutsuhiro Watanabe, code-named "Bird," the Japanese officer in charge who subjected him to cruel torture.

From the title of the book it was based on, this film was supposed to have shown Zamperini's survival, resilience and redemption. However, as told by director Angelina Jolie from the script written by Ethan and Joel Coen, all this film showed was the part about survival. Indeed, the survival spirit of Zamperini was very impressive, but the storytelling tended to be heavy-handed and tedious.

Furthermore, we were also waiting for the film to show us his resilience and redemption after his ordeals during the war. Unfortunately, these events were merely summarized in a few slides shown at the end of the film. Zamperini's religious renewal later in life was totally not mentioned. For a film that was two and half hours long, you would have hoped there would be scenes to show at least some of these post-war events which show the process of his post-traumatic resilience and ultimate recovery.

Nailing the difficult role of Zamperini, young actor Jack O'Donnell breaks through into the big leagues. We see him undergo an incredibly scary physical transformation from buff Olympic athlete to emaciated prisoner of war. Aside from that, he portrays the unimaginable suffering endured by this man with depth and sensitivity. The climactic scene shown on the poster where Zamperini is seen carrying a heavy wooden plank could have been executed better by Jolie, but O'Donnell's intense performance saved it and gave it much pathos and power.

This film suffers from turgid storytelling. The lifeboat scenes went on too long, complete with unbelievable things like the soldiers capturing and eating a shark with the limited supplies they had. The prisoner camp scenes also went on too long, with the unconvincing portrayal of The Bird by Japanese pop star Miyavi (Takamasa Ishihara) not helping. The technical aspects though like cinematography, production design and sound are topnotch in quality.

If the main point of this film is forgiveness and redemption, director Angelina Jolie seemed to have forgotten about these. For me, her sophomore venture in directing succeeded only to depress, but failed to inspire. 6/10.

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