Unbroken is the true story of Louis Zamperini (Jack O'Connell), an American athlete who, just a few years after competing in the Olympics, goes to war. Voluntarily or made to, who knows. This was, after all, the 40s. Following his arrival on the battlefield, Louis and co. are sent on a rescue mission, but it's during this trip that they crash down somewhere in the middle of the ocean. Just three of them survive, barely escaping onto the lifeboat with their lives. For the next 47 days, the three have to survive in the ocean, only to be captured by Japanese soldiers who treat them as enemies of Japan. It's quite a story. As a matter of fact, the story told is an incredible one, but the film presented is not.
Unbroken isn't a bad film, I'll say that. The story, of course, is unbelievably powerful. We've seen it and heard about it dozens of times before, but the fact that people actually went through things like this just blows my mind away. When you look at the way these people were treated, it's inhuman. Based on the story alone, Unbroken is a film that suddenly appeared on my radar. Add in Angelina Jolie to the mix and it really grabbed my attention. Then you put in that it was filmed here in Sydney and wow, I'm all for it. It's not a terrible film by any means, but it's certainly not a great one, nor an overly entertaining one. If you were ever looking to find something to classify as "Oscar bait" then this is the film you need to look to.
Angelina Jolie, who doesn't once appear in front of the camera, really proves that she has a knack for directing. Having not seen her debut film, In the Land of Blood and Honey, I was curious to see how she could handle being behind the camera. This camera moves swiftly through all the scenarios, although I have a feeling that this also may have something to do with one of my all time favourite cinematographers, Roger Deakins, who was the cinematographer on this film. Jolie, however, can really get a good performance out of her actors, and she approaches the subject matter in a mature manner and with a lot of respect.
The screenplay, which is co-written by a bunch of people, helps to keep the film moving. Unbroken rarely ever stops. It's a film that just keeps on keeping on, constantly moving in a forwards direction. The dialogue works, even if it's a little heavy handed in certain scenes, but there's no lines that ever come out forced. Something new is always happening in the story, whether it's a flashback to before the war or a shark revealing itself from the water in a way that's almost a replica of a certain scene in Jaws. It's a constantly moving film.
Jack O'Connell brings this film to new heights. Without him in the lead, I really doubt that I would've found too many things to enjoy with this film. It's not a film that screams for a rewatch. It's two hours of depressing depictions of torment, abuse and fighting for survival, with the last ten minutes dedicated to making the audience feel uplifted. It's not as powerful as it wants to be, but it could've been worse without O'Connell. He's easily the best thing about this movie.
However, with this being Oscar bait and all, it does tend to become a bit too biopic-y. It's not anything to do with the true story, but with Unbroken, the film does tend to follow through with a few conventions. Not just in style, but in substance too. It takes us through the entire life of Zamperini, even dedicating the final closing titles to explaining what happened after the events of the film. It plays it safe, taking us through every crucial moment in his life, but doing it without adding anything new to the table.
To sum up, Unbroken takes its powerful true story and somehow turns it into something that's nowhere near as powerful as it could have been. The performances are excellent, especially from Jack O'Connell, and Angelina Jolie feels right behind the camera, but the film just plays everything really safe.