“Unbroken” might better have been titled “Triumph of the Human Spirit®,” or “Resilience!: What Doesn’t Kill You Only Makes You Stronger.” The life story of Louis “Louie” Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) is a case study in conquering adversity—this guy packed more hardship into his years than most of us could in three lifetimes—but the resulting film plays more like a hagiography than a Hollywood biopic.
Adapted from Laura Hillenbrand’s book and directed and produced by Angelina Jolie, this is at the indomitable spirit of look at Zamperini, a first generation Italian-American Olympian runner who survived a near-fatal WWII plane crash and 47 days drifting on a raft with airmen Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) and Mac (Finn Wittrock). On their last day adrift he says to his raft mate, “I have some good news and bad news.” The good news is rescue, the bad news is the rescuers, the Japanese who promptly throw him in a prisoner of war camp.
Years of physical and mental abuse follow at the hand of a brutal camp commander known as The Bird (Miyavi) before he finally emerges bloodied and bruised but unbroken, (that’s not a spoiler, just a fact), on VJ Day.
Jolie has made a handsome movie unafraid to get down and dirty in its depiction of the suffering and indignities faced by Zamperini, but for all the skill she displays in staging the scenes, there seems to be a lack of real emotion behind the camera. Star O’Connell is raw, physically and mentally, throughout but despite the cruelty on display the movie is oddly bloodless. It’s a movie and a story that you’ll admire but may not be swept away by.
Perhaps it’s because other than a few scenes early on where Zamperini is encouraged to do his best by his brother (Alex Russell) and beaten by his father, we never get a real sense of where this incredible fortitude comes from. His spirit may be unbreakable but our sense of why we should be as moved as the movie would like us to be isn’t as shatterproof.
As well intentioned—and patriotic and high minded and valorous—as Jolie’s presentation of “Unbroken” is, it falls short on this one, very major, aspect of the story.