Unbroken – 3/5 – Movie Reviews by Ry!

UnbrokenUnbroken – 3/5 – This is for a review for a film that comes out on Christmas day.  Getting an early screening this past week, I went into this with the understanding that the film is based on a true story.  Also, this is Angelina Jolie’s first directorial debut.  With a mixture of familiarity and the nuance of a first timer, the expectations are for the film can be hampered.  In the end, even with the common errors of a ‘first time’ director, Unbroken turns out to be an enjoyable but average tale of one man’s perseverance through some of the most unbelievable circumstances.

Premise: The story of one man’s survival during World War II at sea and inside a Japanese Prison Camp

Playing the main character of Louis Zamperini; we have new comer Jack O’Connell.   In this main role, he gives the audience a decent but average performance of a man that has to survive some of the most endearing circumstances that anyone should go through.  His natural ‘optimistic’ aura helps seed through some of the dire situations, making you feel the pressure to want to survive the things that happen throughout the film.   The believability factor comes from his strength of the grounded performance combined with his ‘body’ impressions, especially when the film takes place out at sea.  You can see the ’emotional’ toll through his eyes, and wonder how strong his faith is against insurmountable odds.  Throughout the whole film, O’Connell shows raw human nature, even if it borderlines on subpar for a main character.  He keeps you intensely focused on the film.  It’s ‘his’ story and that is what makes you feel ‘his’ character.   For the rest of the cast, it is pretty much a collection of throw away performances and traditional archetypes for a true story.  Most of the people you won’t recognize, and even if you do know the actors/actress; there performances are so wooden that it borderlines on terrible.   Since majority of the side characters (which include other soldiers, prisoners, Japanese soldiers and familiar commoners in America) are meant to shadow the main character, they never hinder the story’s progression.

With this film’s main story being based on true events, there are only a few paths the first time director could have taken with the focus on the direction.  The options were to build the whole film through ‘flash backs’; Create a linearity path or use a chorological perspective to link the events of truth.  The director takes the third option; linking events through purpose of convenience.  That common device of ‘circumstance dictates direction’ can be predictable, but also a welcome approach.  For most the film, the ‘true story’ drowns out the predictability, allowing you to be drawn into this endearing tale.   As mentioned early, the film has some strong themes.  The film’s highlights fall on these themes of human perseverance, faith and the meaning of life.  You see this through how Louis struggles to survive, and it stronger within the first half of the film.  The first half of the film starts with the basic setup of ‘who’ this man is, and what lead to the first dire situations.   After he and two comrades get stranded at sea, there is a lot of back and forth of ‘wanting’ or ‘not wanting’ to survive.  What is the reason? Why is there reason?  It is both powerful and common in what they experience.  Jolie does a good job in this part of the film by focusing on the strengths of the human will, and letting the actors and themes dictate the story.  Even with the ‘standard’ setup and generic situation, you are gripped on this ride and pushing for these men (including Louis to survive).  Once the film heads into is second half, it loses steam of what is built up through the raw emotions of human struggle.  When the men get capture by the Japanese, the film focuses changes, from the strong thematic of the raw human aspects and turns into a predictable situation of the ‘captor vs. captive’ scenario of any typical prison camp story.  That predictability that is drowned out by the true event scenario gets reversed.  The true story gets forgotten and turns into this low ‘tonal’ look at survival.  Jolie tries too hard to show the ‘bad’ without showing the ‘good’, so there isn’t any real conflict.  You are just waiting out the time when these prisoners get released from this situations they are in.  The acting gets lost in common setups, and the strong moments fall to the cliché ‘man’s reason to survive’.   Once we get to the climax, it is so underwhelming that you (as the audience) wish there was something more powerful that could tie all the events together.  By the end, that lack of a real epilogue causes you to loosely feel for this human tale, but know this could have been a great tale of a real man’s journey.

The visuals are awe inspiring.  The lushes ‘sweeping’ looks at the Japan landscape or the outward appearance of the Pacific, there is nothing here that fails to amaze.  Even if the story takes a turn towards an average tale, the colorful appearance of the surroundings helps capture the ‘essence’ of the story.  From the use of ‘close-ups’ on the main character within the prison camp or the overall panoramic view of those situations, you’ll at least have depth through your eyes.  The score helps prop up the story, but doesn’t really do enough to stand out as great.
Unbroken is a film filled with a lot of great moments, but the direction lacks strong focus.  Ultimately, the tale gets lost in the first time director’s struggles, leading to an average tale of survival.   Even being average, the film can still be a wonderful experience.  If you’re fan of true stories or want to see Angelina Jolie’s first directed film, check this out.  It is worth a family outing on Christmas day, and something that will be endearing to you all.

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