The Watchers

The Watchers

Monday, 29 December 2014

Review: Unbroken (UK Cert 15)

Louis Zamperini, who passed away in July at the age of 97, had an incredible life. From tearaway child to track star, he competed in the 1936 Olympics before serving his country in the Second World War. He was downed at sea, surviving over 45 days in an inflatable dinghy, before being captured by the Japanese and taken to a prisoner-of-war camp. He survived that ordeal and returned to America, becoming involved with Billy Graham and becoming a man of God. His story is truly inspiring. 

Perhaps a documentary about the man and his life would better serve his story than this muddled, messy, middle-of-the-road, by-the-numbers biopic. Unbroken has an over-reliance on trite movie cliches, which dilute the base story and turn it into a bunch of contrived vignettes instead of a gripping tale of survival and forgiveness.

Angelina Jolie's direction is workmanlike, solid but nothing special or spectacular. Some of the make-up and visual effects when Louis is adrift at sea look amateurish and cheap which undercuts the tension. That said, Roger Deakins' cinematography is- as usual- excellent.

As the adult Louis, Jack O'Connell ('71, Starred Up) makes a good fist of it. You empathise with Louis as he goes from one disaster to another and O'Connell's symapthetic portrayal is probably the best thing in the film. Other actors, such as Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund, Jai Courtney and Finn Wittrock, are wasted; good actors in flimsily-written roles. The performance by Takamasa Ishihara as Mutsuhiro Watanabe, Zamperini's chief tormentor in the camps, lurches from trying-to-be-sinister-but-just-coming-off-as-creepy and wide-eyed foaming lunatic with very little in between. Frankly, it doesn't make for interesting viewing. 

My major bugbear with the film is the script. Joel and Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson have adapted Laura Hillenbrand's memoir but have comprehensively botched it. It's badly structured, jumping around to flashbacks at odd moments, rather than following the linear story of Zamperini's life. It also has the rare quality of turning what was no doubt stirring advice- 'if you can take it, you can make it' and 'One moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory'- into leaden platitudes which is a monumental insult. There's also a massive infodump at the end of the film, detailing Zamperini's life once he returned. Whilst it's edifying to read, the details provide an intriguing story which we're just told rather than shown. 

They say that life is often stranger than fiction and that you couldn't write what happens in some people's lives as nobody would believe it. This is very much true of Zamperini's life. His is an incredible story but Unbroken really doesn't do it justice. Read Hillenbrand's book instead. 

Rating: 2.5 out of 5


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