It’s not difficult for a movie to make me tear up or
downright cry. There’s something about a stirring soundtrack weaving together
passionate images that touches me above all else. But the final clincher, which never fails to bring tears to my eyes is a true inspirational story. So when I sat down to
watch the film adaptation of the non-fiction book Unbroken, I had a box of tissues within reach.
Laura Hillenbrand’s massively popular non-fiction book Unbroken received excellent reviews and
much attention, promising a widened perspective on war, resilience and redemption.
The storyline and accompanying emotions seemed like they would translate well into film. Yet despite its hype and potential, Unbroken failed to prompt much
emotion, let alone tears.
Directed by the Oscar-winning actress Angelina Jolie, the film fails to inspire
real emotion or empathy past its first half hour—I would recommend that
Jolie return to her thriving acting career. Unbroken rushes past its most compelling characters and plot
points to drag endlessly through the daily monotony of war.
In its opening in an unknown location over the Pacific, the film introduces its viewers to Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), a fighter pilot in World War II. O’Connell’s admittedly fantastic performance (you may remember him from the angsty British teen show Skins) makes Louis appear the cool-yet-daring jokester. Maybe it’s O’Connell’s
impish smile or his smooth delivery of lines, but Louis is instantly likable, and we find ourselves pushing for his success, and soon, his life.
But as Unbroken continues,
it becomes more and more apparent that it is O’Connell’s charm that is captivating rather than the character as he is written.
We are quickly taken back to Louis’ childhood as a somewhat
misfit Italian-American boy growing up in California. Louis smokes, drinks and
generally gets into the trouble in which bored adolescent boys typically find themselves.
Fortunately, with the help of his one-dimensional best-friend character (the
first of many throughout the film), Louis soon discovers his remarkable talent
for running. So remarkable, in fact, that he soon qualifies for the Olympics.
It is almost unbelievable that a plot line with both an
Olympic athlete and World War II could fail to captivate, but perhaps that is Unbroken’s problem. With so many
intrigues, the film does not seem to know where to land.
There is little time for the development of any character besides Louis, and the film focuses instead
on the major events in his life. Yet by failing to incorporate meaningful
relationships between Louis and the side characters around him, the
awe-inspiring events soon lose their appeal.
Back over the Pacific Ocean, we
again meet the present-day Louis, this time in a state of crisis. Due to
mechanical failure, Louis and his comrade’s plane crashes into the water,
leaving only our protagonist and two others alive.
Most of us have seen films from
the “stranded at sea” genre (Castaway,
Life of Pi, etc.) and know roughly
what to expect: fishing, the relief of rain, and heartfelt realizations about
the world and the self put into perspective by the sea. But while Unbroken had the first two in abundance,
the development of meaningful relationships was a gaping hole. Replaced instead
by the quiet monotony of 47 days at sea, the film failed to provide new ways to reflect and left me as bored as Louis and his men.
When we finally move into the
second half of the film (taking place in a prisoner-of-war camp), I found
myself still searching for a character to invest in. Though Louis does appear
unbreakable in his continued strength throughout extreme hardships, he lacks
the growth or introspection to make his character inspirational
The only other notable character
from the film is the sadistic sergeant of the war camp, Watanabe (played by
Japanese rock star Takamasa Ishihara). A man seemingly without redeeming
qualities, Watanabe (referred to as “The Bird” by the prisoners) is incredibly
cruel. Though Ishihara doesn’t exactly look the part, Jolie chose the rock star
because of his commanding presence on screen. The heated relationship between
Louis and The Bird (though still less developed than I would have liked) was an
intriguing and well-done part of the film.
To Jolie’s credit, the cinematography of Unbroken is well done. Particularly noticeable in the (many) scenes at sea, the camera’s ability to become intimate with the three men through up close shots is spectacular.
Likewise, the filming of the men struggling in the water is both frantic and graceful. This allows for the viewer to better empathize with the men’s utter isolation on their raft, while enjoying the beautiful aesthetics of underwater camerawork. Watch out for the sharks, though! I jumped out of my seat after one surprising shark jumped at the camera.
With its incredible story, fantastic acting, artful cinematography and beautiful scenery, Unbroken had such great potential, and it was incredibly frustrating to see the film fail to live up to expectations. I truly wanted
to love Unbroken, but the film’s inability to settle or develop in particular
made it impossible.
I’m sure that we will be seeing Jack O’Connell in many movies to
come, but hopefully his next role will do his acting a bit more credit. So for
now, I would recommend sticking to the book.
But don’t believe me, just watch!
Sawyer Henshaw SC ’17 is an English Major from Hawaii. Believe it or not, the film columnist wasn’t allowed to watch R-rated movies until she was 17 years old.