CAPSULE: This is the true story of Louis Zamperini, who was an Olympic champion runner before WWII and whose plane crashed in the Pacific during the war. After an incredible 47 days surviving on the water he was picked up by Japanese troops and taken to a detention camp. UNBROKEN tells the story how he was tested in multiple hellish circumstances. Angelina Jolie directs with a screenplay from, among others, the Coen Brothers, but she fails to make Zamperini three-dimensional. Where the film needs oomph it just does not grasp the viewer. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
The title UNBROKEN refers to Louis Zamperini (played by Jack O'Connell), who seemed to be unbreakable. Bullied as a little boy who could not follow rules he gets his life in order by putting everything into his running, breaking a speed record at the 1938 Olympics. From there he went into the World War II military, and had his plane crash under him into the ocean. And spent the rest of the war in Japanese prison camps.
This film of Zamperini's life is oddly structured. It begins on a bombing run over water from which Zamperini got back to base unharmed. During this run he thinks about his life to that point. He remembers his past and how he went from being an "at risk" kid to being an Olympic runner who wins the gold at the 1938 Summer Olympics in Berlin. It is a later run in a bomber in which the plane crashes and Zamperini organizes the other two survivors who share a double inflatable raft. Zamperini seems to have read the manual and knows what to do to catch food and to keep his fellows alive. He was on the water a grueling 47 days. From there he was "rescued," if that is the word, and was sent to multiple Japanese prisoner of war camps.
We are about at the midpoint of the 137-minute film and just getting to the primary story of the film, how Zamperini survives in the camps. Life would be bad enough if he were a typical POW. Perhaps because of his Olympic status, he is chosen for especially sadistic abuse by a malignant Japanese corporal who gives all the worst treatment to Zamperini.
The only place where this film generates any real excitement for its characters are the earlier scenes of aerial combat. In a season of too many superhero films, it should have been a welcome relief to have a film that was a true story from history. Sadly UNBROKEN's main character is just a bit too much of a human super- hero. He knows what to do in just about any emergency. And whatever trial is put before him, it may cause him a lot of pain to do it, but he will always survive and prevail. He may be seriously hurt by what is done to him, but he is a very fast healer.
One punishment strangely involves every prisoner in the camp punching Zamperini in the face. One rather suspects that this would be and was intended to be tantamount to a death sentence. In the film it may have rearranged his face a bit, but when next we see him he is ready for action again. Any feeling sorry for the character is pointless since the script will bail Zamperini out of whatever fate brings him. And it does not hurt that he has an inspirational aphorism or two from his brother to set his mind at ease. He just has to remember "if you can take it, you can make it" or "a moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory." There just does not seem to be enough of a person there and too much of a demigod for the viewer to build much empathy for or to be inspired by. The best scenes in the film have the characters figuring how they can save themselves. But the whole second half of the film has powerless characters simply being acted upon.
Director Angelina Jolie needs to work a little more on making her characters human and believable. I rate UNBROKEN a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1809398/combined
What others are saying: http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/unbroken_2014/
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2015 Mark R. Leeper