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Unbroken – Movie Review

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Unbroken – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

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When telling the story of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini’s life, Angelina Jolie has opted for the old-fashioned style of filmmaking. This fits the inspirational angle she is going for, though Unbroken is more rough than the Chariots of Fire feel one might think this movie would go for. Even with the occasional time jumping that occurs in the film’s first act, Unbroken is content to just tell Zamperini’s biography with not too many filmmaking flourishes. Jolie still has a long time to grow as a director, but this shows some potential in her taking more trips behind the camera.

Unbroken is structured with three very obvious acts, focusing on specific points in Louis Zamperini’s life. The most riveting is his time, when he spent 47 days on a raft in the Pacific Ocean. Jolie lingers on the torment he and fellow soldiers went through as they drifted through water and tried to survive through any means imaginable. One almost wonders how they managed to live that long through such an ordeal and Jolie does not shy away from the more graphic situations they had to endure, including a very badly tasting bird. The third act, set entirely when Zamperini was in a prisoner-of-war camp, really shows the brutality he went through. While Jolie thankfully allows time to breathe between the beatings, it’s certainly harsh at times. One scene in particular is almost nerve-wracking despite true events telling us that it will be okay in the end.

There is surprisingly not as much running as one would expect, considering his pre-War life. We see him training and running a race in the 1936 Olympics, but there was room to see him entering Berlin during a time when an evil superpower was starting to conquer Europe. Reading passages from the book, there are some humourous little side-stories that would have given a bit more character to Zamperini. He is a likeable and sympathetic figure, but he doesn’t rise above being the typical Boy Scout thrust into war. However, Jack O’Donnell (who resembles a younger Michael Fassbender) does a very good job in the role, handling both the physical torment and the charm required for the part. Despite Joel and Ethan Coen’s names credited on the screenplay, it’s hard to spot where their input appears. It would be interesting to see a copy of the script that highlights their contributions, along with William Nicholson’s and Richard LaGravenese’s.

Angelina Jolie tinges Unbroken with an inspirational glow and she clearly watched a lot of Turner Classic Movies in preparation for the film. That’s not a slight against the movie, which feels very old-fashioned, but without becoming overbearing. Alexandre Desplat’s score could have run through the entire movie, hitting you with its orchestral might, but Jolie keeps it minimal. Even Louis Zamperini’s Olympic victory is understated with our rooting interest coming from getting to know him earlier. His family life is nicely portrayed, too, showing the different relationships he had with his mother and father. While he is imprisoned in Japan, that lingering thought of his parents and siblings back home is always there.

Unbroken doesn’t present anything new in the well-worn biopic playbook. With a lot of story to tell, Jolie and her multiple screenwriters had the tricky task of condensing that into a two hour and ten minute runtime. One almost wonders if a mini-series would have been a better choice. However, she clearly has respect for Zamperini and passion for the material, leading to a solid directorial attempt on her part. There are enough inspiring and intense scenes in Unbroken that show she has the chops to be a better filmmaker than an actress. It’s an ordinary movie, in some respects, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes less flair is the better option.

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Review By: Stefan Ellison

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