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Unbroken (2014)

| December 23, 2014 | 0 Comments

It would not be unreasonable to accuse Angelina Jolie of steering her directing career down the same path that has offered great success to Kathryn Bigelow. Bigelow, of course, has had great success with two recent, hard-hitting (not to mention Oscar-winning) war dramas, The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty and so Jolie, it seems, is trying to chart the same course by directing war dramas of her own. First she directed the so-so In the Land of Blood and Honey, a 2011 romance set against the Bosnian War. Now, she gives us Unbroken the true story of Olympic runner and WWII POW Louis Lamperini. Both films have their merits, but what is clear is that Jolie has a long way to go before her directing career hits its stride. To be blunt, Bigelow is simply more experienced, and a better storyteller.

That’s not to say that Jolie doesn’t have talent. She knows how to organize a scene. Take the film’s opening in which Jolie (who does not act in this film) throws us squarely into the action. We’re onboard a B-24 bomber that is attacked by Japanese fighter planes. Everything that can go wrong, does. The plane malfunctions, the crew panics, and all along we’re right in the thick of things. We are cramped into the confined spaces with the crew of this aircraft so we feel what they feel. She has a good sense of pacing and she knows how to organize an action sequence. All through the movie, she stages individual scenes like that, sometimes to great effect, but when you string it all together you realize it doesn’t matter so much as a whole.

Unbroken tells the true story of Louis Lamperini (Jack O’Connell), the son of Italian immigrants who spent his early years as a trouble maker until his life was altered by his brother Pete (Alex Russell) who discovered that the kid was a fast runner. Year after year, Pete trains his brother to be a great athlete, and even takes him all the way to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Flush from that success (he won the gold), Lamperini joined the Air Force, got shot down and spent years in a Japanese POW camp. That’s a lot of adventure for one life and you have to admire the journey he takes.

The most effective moments are the highlights, especially the scenes of Lamperini and crew attempting to survive on a raft in the middle of the ocean. Or enduring physical punishment from the Japanese while being held in a prison camp. They’re great as individual moments, but where the movie stumbles is in letting us get to know Lamperini as a person. Most people will never have heard of Louis Lamperini, and I am grateful that Jolie chose this lesser known story rather than somebody we know all too well. But we never really get to know him as a person. We follow his journey but he seems at arm’s length from us. British actor Jack O’Connell does a good job in the lead role, but when it was over I felt I had seen the red letter moments of his life, not the intimate details. I got the frosting, but not the cake.

Still, this is a well made film. It is beautifully shot, very well acted by a no-name cast, and it has moments that approach greatness. Jolie has a lot of talent as a filmmaker. I expect that her films will get better. This is a good one, not a great one.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2014) View IMDB Filed in: Drama, War