WRITTEN BY: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, William Nicholson
DIRECTED BY: Angelina Jolie
STARRING: Jack O'Connell, Miyavi, Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock
RATING: 4 stars
Much has been said about Unbroken because it is Angelina Jolie's second attempt at directing a feature film and she was very close to the subject of the film, former Olympian and prisoner of war Louie Zamperini, before he died. Throughout her extensive publicity for the film, Jolie has been outspoken about her hero worship of Louie, so it is clear that the film is a passion project for her. Unfortunately, while his story is remarkable, it is not a drastically different prisoner of war experience than we have seen before. In fact, there have been many films in recent years that explore similar themes of forgiveness rather than revenge, such as The Railway Man. Nonetheless, Unbroken has some added intrigue because of who Louie was before he became a prisoner of war. Ultimately, Unbroken is a well-made film with breathtaking cinematography and a near-perfect cast. It just lacks some originality.
Louie (Jack O’Connell) is a troubled child but finds success as a runner, eventually representing the United States at the Olympics in Germany during Adolf Hitler's reign. Louie later joins World War II, but after a plane crash, he is left stranded on a life boat with only a few survivors. After a gruelling experience in the middle of nowhere, Louie finds himself in a Japanese prison camp where he is singled out because of his athletic fame and must overcome more obstacles to survive.
The film is based on Laura Hillenbrand’s book and has been worked on by four screenwriters including Joel and Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson, but it does not feel like it has been overworked with too many ideas. In fact, Jolie does a good job of reining everything in. That being said, the film is a little too long and some of the longer takes could have been trimmed without losing effect.
O'Connell gives a brave performance and carries the film wonderfully. He is supported by a cast of strong actors including Garrett Hedlund who portrays a commander in the war camp who mentors Louie, as well as Domhall Gleeson and Finn Wittrock who present soldiers reacting very differently to their plight after the plane crash as they endure extreme thirst and hunger. Many of the cast members lost considerable weight to portray their characters and they all worked well together. Miyavi also appears in his first acting role and has some difficult moments on screen playing such a hard and vicious Japanese man running the prison.
Jolie has repeatedly said in the press that Unbroken is less about war, and more about the human spirit and forgiveness. Indeed, it is that powerful message that audiences can take home after seeing this film.