Movie review: 'Unbroken'

Bestseller becomes a film of prestige and suffering

As a thirteen-year-old, I thrilled to the adventures of Jim Graham in Steven Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun," and I imagine today's thirteen-year-old boys will prove similarly enthralled by Angelina Jolie's "Unbroken."

That's the best news about Universal Pictures' adaptation of the non-fiction bestseller by Laura Hillenbrand ("Seabiscuit"), which also boasts supple photography by Roger Deakins ("No Country for Old Men") and a creditable lead performance by newcomer Jack O"Connell ("Starred Up"). But demographics outside of male pubescence are likely to be tougher audiences for this flatfooted recounting of the life of Louis Zamperini, the Italian-American Olympic runner whose Army Air Forces service found him adrift in the Pacific Ocean and, later, trapped in a Japanese P.O.W. camp.

Jolie's respectful, tasteful version of events -- her second narrative feature as director -- realizes a respectful, tasteful screenplay from Joel and Ethan Coen ("No Country for Old Men"), Richard LaGravenese ("The Fisher King") and William Nicholson ("Shadowlands"). That's a heck of a lot of screenwriting talent attached to what turns out to be a perfectly obvious, generic and even corny script: the weakest link in an artistically dubious enterprise. "Unbroken" serves as a calling card for O'Connell, who obligingly and believably trudges through Zamperini's Stations of the Cross, but there's little insight to be gained, and even less holiday entertainment, from these 137 minutes.

Suffering is decidedly the point, to the tune of this advice from Louis' brother, Pete (John D'Leo): "If you can take it, you can make it." While that might make a fine bumper sticker or fortune cookie, it's not a lot on which to hang a picture like this one. Tom Stoppard's script for "Empire of the Sun" -- likewise about traumatic WWII isolation and prison camp survivalism -- carried his signature intelligence and lyricism. Following blistering early sequences of military aviation, Jolie's film works its way predictably through Zamperini's story with little in the way of surprise or creative spark to justify a cinematic treatment. The film's only subtlety is in momentarily feigning toward plot developments that never come.

"Unbroken" does arrive at lessons in forgiveness -- for the war crimes perpetrated by Mutsuhiro Watanabe, a.k.a. "The Bird" (Miyavi) -- though the drama of these lessons remains effectively off screen. Ultimately, the lesson of "Unbroken" seems to be this: Louis Zamperini suffered horribly for America, so the least you can do is watch this movie about it.

Rated PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language. Two hours, 17 minutes.

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Like this comment
Posted by Stan
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 31, 2014 at 4:48 pm


What a wimpy review on your part. It was a relatively faithful movie about a real life experience. That seems to be very boring to decry a "corny script: the weakest link in an artistically dubious enterprise." WWII was the real deal, and you pee your panties that it doesn't satisfy your artistic tastes, apparently.

Time to grow up, Peter.

1 person likes this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 31, 2014 at 4:52 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 31, 2014 at 5:05 pm

Jolie is not a favorite of mine, or even a curiosity enough to want to see her movie or see her in a movie. Can't stand her father, John Voight, either.

I have seen the previews to this movie so many times I am already negatively inclined about it, and that happened relatively quickly ... and I don't even see that many movies, It just looks way over the top, awful, and irrelevant ... even hyperbolic. No thanks.

I would like to see CitizenFour though about Edward Snowden.

2 people like this
Posted by Read it Instead
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 31, 2014 at 6:31 pm

I highly recommend that people read Laura Hillenbrand's book rather than see the movie. Angelina Jolie has absolutely ruined Louis Zamperini's story. She has also, probably for the sake of brevity, since the book is LONG, eliminated the other stories in the book--such as the anger of veterans of the war in the Pacific over MacArthur's failure to punish the Japanese war criminals.

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