Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Unbroken Review: A War Drama on Endurance

For years I have known Angelina Jolie as an A-list actress but now I get to see how the star handles herself in the director's chair. For Angelina Jolie's second directorial project, she brings the story of Louis Zamperini to silver screen in Unbroken. Though the film based on true events, Unbroken's roots come from the novel by Laura Hillenbrand: the author behind Seabiscuit. A movie like Unbroken is not an easy one to pull off. Not only does the film need to keep true to the historical events, it also needs to play out as a movie. So could Jolie pull off this historic drama; or was Unbroken just unable to endure this transition to the silver screen?

The story of Louis "Louie" Zamperini is one of perseverance and endurance. After making a career in the Olympics, Louie (Jack O'Connell) is drafted in the army to fight during World War II. When a plane malfunction, Louis and the remain of his crew are stranded in the middle of the ocean. After 45 days adrift at sea, Louie's true endurance test begins when he becomes a prisoner of war and finds himself in a Japanese prison camp.

The story to Unbroken was as straightforward as a plot could get. Most of the film dealt with Louie being stranded on a lifeboat and then being a prisoner of war. These plot points did capture the theme of survival as I saw what Louis has to go through just to endure. However, aside from the concepts of survival and overcoming deadly circumstances, there was not much to this story. The film had flashbacks sequences showing Louie's childhood and his time in the Olympics. However these moments, while great for Louie's character, did not contribute much to the overall plot. Needless to say the moments in Unbroken's story felt defining and they certainly reveled in drama. Yet there was much to this plot that had me underwhelmed and wishing for more.

With story like Unbroken's, no doubt the movie's strongest factor was the characterization of Louie Zamperini; and it was. While Louie was not the most engaging character I have seen this year, Jack O'Connell provided a fantastic performance of the World War II survivor. O'Connell delivered in every moment as he humanized Zamperini to the best of his ability. While it was driven by its lead, the movie did feature a cast that did their best to provide support. Domhnall Gleeson did a fantastic job as Russell "Phil" Phillips. Gleeson's interaction with O'Connell's felt legit as the two actors had several scenes that captured the survivors' friendship. The likes of Garrett Hedlund and Jai Courtney made for solid supporting characters, but they did not receive enough screen time for either actor to shine; nor did they have the presence of Domhnall's Phil. The final major player to this film was Miyavi as Mutsuhiro "The Bird" Wanatabe. Miyavi did his best to be antagonistic towards Louie. However the character was more of an obstacle then he was a compelling villain. While the film and Miyavi does its best to humanize this Japanese officer, it did not help the fact that The Bird came off as being more cliched then a character one would love to hate.

For Unbroken's technical factors, there is not much to say. Roger Denkins's cinematography provided the right feel as it created a tone that captured the harshness of war and survival. If there was a factor that I could tip my hat to it would be the score. Alexandre Desplat surprised me yet again by providing another diverse score as the soundtrack featured themes that could be thrilling and exciting. At the end of the day, these factors were weighed by Angelina Jolie's direction. Just by looking at these aspects, it seemed that Jolie provided the right amount of detail to give this World War 2 story an atmosphere that could do these historical events justice.

Unbroken is a good film to Angelina Jolie's career as a director, but that is not to say the movie is flawless. While the film made for a great character study, it lacked in several areas such as story. Though the plot itself was not bad, it felt underwhelming as I believed the major moments in Louis Zamperini's life would have been stronger if we had more time in the character's backstory. Though Unbroken stumbled at times, this war drama still captured the idea of perseverance and seemed to be a solid tribute to the late Louis Zamperini.

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