★★★ / ★★★★
While out on a rescue mission over the Pacific Ocean, the engines of the plane that Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), an Olympic athlete, and his fellow crewmen are on start to fail which meant a certain plunge toward an endless stretch of water. Louis manages to survive, along with Mac (Finn Wittrock) and Phil (Domhnall Gleeson), but it is a long way till the forty-seventh day until they are to be rescued by the Japanese—with only a box of chocolate and a small container of fresh water.
Based on a true story, “Unbroken,” directed by Angelina Jolie, is a straight-forward dramatic film about a survivor of World War II. It can be critiqued from the angle of not surprising the audiences enough, whether it be in terms of tone, pacing, or how the story unfolds, but it can be given credit for giving us exactly what we expect. I belong in the latter camp; it is not the most exciting movie from a technical point of view, but I was interested enough in the trials that Zamperini had been through.
O’Connell plays the protagonist with stoicism and dignity. And because he portrays the character in this manner, the moments in which Zamperini breaks down command all the more power. O’Connell has always been ace at playing young men who are a little rough around the edges. What he does differently here is that the performance is a bit more controlled instead of a manic hyperbole. He plays the character tough on the outside but with something to prove on the inside.
The picture is beautifully photographed, whether it be the scenes taking place in the middle of the ocean—hungry sharks and all—or the Japanese detention camps, bathed either in yellow or blue. The flashbacks showing Zamperini’s childhood has a sense of timelessness about them. Each event is important enough to be etched into the boy’s memory and to be remembered during early adulthood.
Less involving are the supporting characters Zamperini meets along the way. None of the American soldiers are especially memorable, from physicality to performance. In fact, a lot of them look so much alike that at times I found myself unable to discern whether a captured soldier in a particular scene is the same one who had a conversation with the protagonist about half an hour ago. Supporting characters need personality especially if the subject is not exactly very expressive. The villain, a cruel Japanese sergeant named Watanabe (played quite nicely by Takamasa Ishihara), stands out but the script does not provide depth in terms of his intentions and actions.
Although I was satiated, “Unbroken” leaves a lot untouched. How is his family like? Other than being encouraging, why does Louis have so much respect for his elder brother? What role does Zamperini’s newfound spirituality play during the horrors that unfold in the detention camps? These are important questions that must be answered because they provide a good amount of substance to the story. Otherwise, one gets the impression that this person’s story is worth telling only because of the things that he had been through.