Unbroken is an incredible journey through the life of Louis Zamperini. It is a superbly inspirational film that will be sure to touch everyone who watches this extremely cinematic war-time masterpiece that harkens to classic Hollywood story structure. Based on the best-selling novel by Laura Hillenbrand, this film is truly one of the most gut-wrenching war-time movies. Angelina Jolie showcases her talent for the directing chair, and it is evident. Although there are elements of the story which could have been executed better, the greatness of the narrative outweighs them. This is one of those movies where there is nothing overtly wrong with it, but at the same time, there isn’t anything technically outstanding about it either–with the exception of a compelling screenplay, exquisite acting by Jack O’Connell, and a realistic depiction of what life in a Japanese prisoner of war camp was like. It is sure to garner Oscar nominations and quite possibly some wins as well.
“As a boy, Louis “Louie” Zamperini is always in trouble, but with the help of his older brother, he turns his life around and channels his energy into running, later qualifying for the 1936 Olympics. When World War II breaks out, Louie enlists in the military. After his plane crashes in the Pacific, he survives an incredible 47 days adrift in a raft, until his capture by the Japanese navy. Sent to a POW camp, Louie becomes the favorite target of a particularly cruel prison commander” (IMDb). Follow Louie as he holds fast to wise words imparted to him by his older brother, “if you can take it, you can make it,” and does not break or lose faith under the abominable treatment by the Japanese during World War II. Many years later, he then returns back to Japan forgive his captors. Finally, in 1998, Louis fulfills his dream to one again run in the Torch Relay in the Olympic Games hosted by Japan.
The most incredible element of this movie, beyond the story in and of itself, is the amazing and authentic acting by Jack O’Connell, who plays Louis Zamperini. He truly possesses the ability to convey genuine pain and anguish. And, unlike many nearly super-human stories like this one, he also shows that he struggles with decisions and emotionally breaks down from time to time. As unreal as his ability to remain “unbroken” is to the audience, he is also very real emotionally, psychologically, and physiologically. This humility and earthy-ness of Zamperini allows almost anyone in the audience to identify with his struggles. Most likely, very few in the movie-going audiences would have had experience in war, or even less likely, as a prisoner of war. We all go through extreme trials of the mind or body and can learn from Zamperini to not break under undue or unfair pressure. Stay true to what you believe in and your goals.
The opening of the movie is a memorable throwback to classic Hollywood wartime movies with expansive aerial views and the hum of the propeller-driven aircraft engines. The movie remains here only for a short while before flashing back to Zamperini’s life as a child. Starting out as a petty thief, his family desired for him to become more. After being busted by the local police a few times and thanks to the guidance of his older brother, Zamperini refocuses his energy on becoming a star runner for his school. This is where I feel the screenplay could have improved the storytelling. Flashbacks are seldom a good idea. It would have been much more pleasing to the pace and structure of the narrative to have just started the movie out with Zamperini as a child and told the story from there. This would have allowed for the audience to witness the building up Louis’ character from selfish thief to a steadfast soldier with genuine integrity and a love for his country and comrades. Although his character is unyielding during the movie, there lacked true development or character arc. He went from thief to hero much too quickly. Even though the majority of the movie dealt with his life as a POW, it would have been better to have added more story concerning his family and the US as they battle Japan. This would have helped to break up the monotony of spending so much emotionally draining time at the camp, because the material is so very heavy.
Over all, this movie is very well directed, written, edited, shot, acted, and scored. And, there is a little bit of humor prior to Zamperini’s internment at the camp. There is even a moment that feels like it is right out of Jaws and an extremely funny Hellen Keller joke. Although some more lighthearted material would have been nice to alleviate the heavy and dark cinematic material, it is understandable why that could have prohibited the movie from touching people as much as it does. After the narrative failure of Fury, I was wondering if Hollywood could provide us with another Saving Private Ryan, and Universal Pictures accomplished just that with this wartime masterpiece for a new generation.