Every December, movie theaters across the globe experience a strong influx of critically and commercially successful films, all vying for the same thing: awards. It is a time in which stars and filmmakers offer their very best in the desperate hopes that they will eventually end up with some statues. This year, Angelina Jolie has directed Unbroken, a true story of epic proportions. It is her second time directing (the first being 2011’s In the Land of Blood and Honey) and while the film is a bit cliché and overly optimistic, it works on a few levels. It is also beautifully shot and features a relatively strong performance from young star on the rise Jack O’Connell (Starred Up, Skins, This is England).
Based on the real-life adventures of Olympic runner Louis “Louie” Zamperini (O’Connell), Unbroken follows the young athlete as he enters World War II as a plane gunner, only to be shot down and stranded at sea. After quite some time in a life raft, he and fellow soldiers are captured by Japanese forces and imprisoned in a war camp, where they endure some very intense torture at the hands of the enemy. The film jumps back and forth through Zamperini’s life, showing the events leading up to the imprisonment and his strength in coming face to face with enormous obstacles.
Though movies like Unbroken have been made before and will continue to be made in the future, they aren’t totally worthless. Tales of ordinary individuals who overcome great adversity resonate with audiences in profound ways. People like to see someone rise to the challenge and Unbroken has that in spades. The film follows Zamperini in a variety of scenarios and Jack O’Connell does a fine job in the lead role, with a smart alec attitude and excellent leadership qualities. Zamperini is a role model, for sure, and his hardships are expertly documented and serve as perfect real-life inspiration.
Author Laura Hillenbrand’s book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption is the film’s main source of information and Angelina Jolie has taken that material and turned it into a rather decent film. Though a bit long (clocking in at 2 hours and 17 minutes), it is a highly watchable epic on par with blockbusters like Pearl Harbor and Cast Away. The visual effects were conjured up by Industrial Light & Magic (the same folks behind Pearl Harbor and Red Tails and the WWII aerial battle on screen is so good, that it almost seems real. O’Connell and the other cast members during that scene certainly sell it and provide audiences with one damn fine show.
Unbroken has already been nominated for a number of awards, some for O’Connell and some for Jolie, and these nominations are very much deserved, indeed. As mentioned above, the film is an award-magnet and Christmas is the perfect day for films of this caliber to be released. It isn’t perfect and it may feel a tad familiar here and there but it is a technical triumph and Joel and Ethan Coen provide a script that is a little outside their comfort zone. Having said that, Unbroken has a lot of things going for it and is a rather strong way to ring in the new year