Ok, you may have heard that this is the film Angelina Jolie directed and that it was written by the Cohen brothers, if not, great, if so let’s leave all of this information at the back of your mind and come to this afresh, which is exactly what I did and I am glad I did.
Unbroken tells the true story of Louie Zamperini – a Olympic athlete who joined the armed forces during the Second World War. The story is adapted from Laura Hillenbrand’s book, whose other work incidentally was about the remarkable racehorse Seabiscuit (a firm favourite of mine).
The story is told in flashbacks which is helpful but at times feels a little contrived. We start with a young Louie who is a bit of a delinquent, he steals and drinks alcohol in a painted white milk bottle. His parents are Italian migrants who just want fit in but his erratic behaviour keeps making them standout, even beatings from his father does not deter the young Louie.
It is Louie’s brother who encourages him to pursue running, as he seems to be quite good at it. Louie flourishes and wins selection to go the Olympics. He performs well and aims the next games will be when he wins the gold, this does not happen as the second world war starts.
We see Louie as a bombardier on board a plane, which unfortunately gets shot down. Only three onboard survive, Louie, Phil and Mac. Here we are drawn into a story of survival. The three attempt to survive the harshness of the ocean, including rationing food, sharks and Japanese planes. Remarkably Louie and Phil survive for 47 days only to be captured by the Japanese and sent to a Prisoner of War camp.
The story then focuses on Louie’s survival at the hands of Watanabe the overseeing Officer at the camp who has a chip on his shoulder, who immediately has a strange connection with Louie and beats him. This is a strange subplot and the underlying fixation between the two seems slightly out of a will they or won’t they – perhaps I am overplaying this but see it for yourself. Watanabe is a sadistic and barbaric officer who gets off on inflicting pain and misery to the prisoners, this is expected of him as he is there to break the spirits. But time and time again Louie resists and does not break, he remains unbroken.
Unbroken has glimmers of what Jolie can do if given good material, but I think she has sort of played it safe here, it feels like a Sunday afternoon film. Jack O’Connell is quite good and is starting to become an actor to watch out for. Roger Deakins cinematography is striking as always – this man is a genius in all films he has done, a credit to cinema.
I would like to have seen more of what drove Louie and what made him withstand everything that was thrown at him, why didn’t he just give up? Was it his promise to a higher power? Was it his determination and resilience from his sporting background? To note there is a sequel on the way Unbroken: Path to Redemption perhaps we learn more about this remarkable man.