Thursday, December 18, 2014

“Unbroken”– Movie Review




This week in my movie class, we screened “Unbroken”, a World War II drama directed by Angelina Jolie.


When an Olympic Athlete joins the military during World War II, he’s captured by the Japanese – but will he be able to survive the torture imposed by his captors?


Louis Zamperini (Jack O'Connell) learned how to survive while growing up in California. As a child, he was regularly taunted by schoolmates because his parents were from Italy and he had to defend himself when challenged to fight. His immigrant father was very strict and it was not uncommon for him to severely beat his son whenever he misbehaved. All of this suffering would suit Louie well later in life, although he couldn’t know it at the time. In his adolescence, he discovered that he was the fastest runner in his high school; joining the track team, he perfected his skills and wound up competing in the Olympics held in Germany during the Nazi rule of the 1930’s.

Later on, Louie joins the military during World War II. During a mission where he and some other soldiers were flying to rescue some members of the American military who were stranded, his airplane suffers a breakdown and crashes in the middle of the ocean. He and a couple of fellow passengers from the aircraft escape the wreckage and wind up in a lifeboat. After being adrift for over a month and a half, they are finally rescued – unfortunately, it’s by a bunch of Japanese soldiers who capture and interrogate them.

Subsequently, Louie is transferred to a Japanese Prisoner Of War camp run by a man the prisoners have nicknamed The Bird. Louie finds that The Bird is obsessed with him for some reason and singles him out by brutally torturing him both psychologically and physically. Regardless of what is done to torment him, Louie is somehow able to stand up to The Bird and survives whatever is thrown at him. Eventually, The Bird is promoted and moves on; relieved, Louie believes he’s finally safe until he is also transferred to another POW camp only to find The Bird is running that one as well. When The Bird finds Louie is one of his new prisoners there, he immediately resumes the abuse – but this time, it only gets worse as he is determined to finally break Louie both physically and spiritually. But as the war drags on, will Louie somehow be able to survive or will The Bird finally destroy him once and for all?


The motion picture “Unbroken” is based on a book of the same name by Laura Hillenbrand; it is a biography of Zamperini – a true life war hero and Olympic athlete. For those familiar with Hillenbrand’s chronicle, notable differences may be found. One of the most significant, for example, is the fact that after the war, Zamperini suffered post-traumatic stress and didn’t recover until he was “saved” by becoming a born-again Christian as a result of hearing a Billy Graham sermon. In the movie version of Zamperini’s story, his religious resurgence isn’t covered – however, an allusion to it is made in the epilog of the film.

In only her second feature film as director, Jolie does a commendable job in what amounts to be quite an ambitious project. While much has been made of the fact that she directed the movie, what has somewhat gotten lost in all of this is the fact that The Coen Brothers (Joel and Ethan) wrote the screenplay. This is significant because while the source material may be somewhat sprawling, the motion picture adaptation is very focused on a specific point in its subject’s life; the mistake that is too often made in biographical films based on a memoir is the fact that way too much tends to be covered, perhaps in an attempt to remain true to the original work (a recent example might be “American Sniper”).

While “Unbroken” is a decent enough movie, some may find it difficult to watch due to the relentless and graphic violence during its two and a quarter hours; at this screening, a number of people walked out, most likely because of this reason. So, although recommended, it is with reservations; people especially sensitive to visual depictions of violence (albeit unreal) might wish to avoid “Unbroken” as it does not shy away from the details of Zamperini’s experiences of torture. Sometimes, the timing of a motion picture’s release can impact whether or not it will succeed at the box office; given the fact that there have been recent news stories about the use of torture of prisoners by the CIA, “Unbroken” is timely indeed.


Unbroken (2014) on IMDb

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