release date: 25 December 2014 (Canada)
run time: 137 mins
considered: Biography, Drama, Sport
director: Angeline Jolie
starring: Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund, Takamasa Ishihara, Finn Wittrock, Jai Courtney, Maddalena Ischial, Vincenzo Amato, John Magaro, Luke Treadaway, Louis McIntosh, Ross Anderson, C.J. Valeroy, John D’Leo
movie summary: In a small California town there is a young kid who gets in trouble on a daily basis while drinking, smoking, and stealing. Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) has no direction in life, meanwhile his brother Pete (Alex Russell) runs track and field for the local high school. When Pete sees Louis run from the police one day he can’t believe how fast he is and gets him a try out for the team. Training and running has transformed Louis’ life, so much so that he wins the local track and field championships and gets an invitation to the Olympics in Germany. The little trouble maker grew up to be an American hero right before World War II.
Louis enlists into the military and heads over seas to fight in the great war. He is a bomber on a plane that barely survives an attack of Japanese air fighters. When his crew make it back to Hawaii safe and sound, they are deployed immediately on a rescue mission out to the middle of Pacific to find a crew that has gone missing. Since their plane had been shot up, the military gives Louis and his crew a new broken down plane to head out on their mission, only to witness it fall apart mid-flight and crash into the water. Louis and Pilot Russell Phillips (Domhnall Gleeson) survive along with Francis McNamara (Finn Wittrock). Together the three deployed two floatation devices while hoping and praying that someone somewhere is going to come look for them.
For the next 47 days the trio survive sharks, stormy waves, and the blazing sunshine only to be captured by a boat of Japanese soldiers. Louis and Phil are thrown right into prisoner cells and interrogated one at a time for valuable intelligence about the U.S. military bases in Hawaii. When the Japanese captives don’t get what they want from their two American prisoners, they are shipped off to another prison where there are over 200 more American’s held as prisoners of war. In charge of this camp is Mutsuhito Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara), a Sergeant who was never promoted up the ranks and takes out his aggression on the American prisoners. When he learns that Louis is an Olympic athelete, he begins to treat him worse than all his other prisoners because Louis should be in superior condition and can handle it.
Over the next two years Watanabe tries his best to break Louis and set him up to be killed. When a promotion finally comes his way, Watanabe leaves the camp and Louis never sees him again. The Allies begin to bomb the nearby city where the Americans are held in the prison camp which forces the Japanese military to move everyone to the cool mines on the other side of the island. As the prisoners of war adjust to their new homes, Louis almost faints when he learns that the man in charge of the cool mine is none other than Captain Watanabe. Having already overcome so much adversity, Louis will have to be tougher than ever when he breaks his ankle and Watanabe uses him as an example of what can happen to a worker when he can’t work.
my thoughts: I just wanted to start my thoughts with this opening statement: Unbroken is going to win the Oscar for Best Picture, just mark my words. The reason I say this and stand firmly behind it is because if 12 Years a Slave can win Best Picture in 2013, then it just makes sense that a movie with a similar survival story would follow in its footsteps. Last year we watched a free man who was turned into a slave for 12 years and all the abuse he witnessed, Louis Zamperini was an American Olympic hero who was a free man serving his country when he was captured and turned into a prisoner of war. Both movies appear to similar in that their main characters have to overcome the worse possible human conditions all the while never giving up their fighting attitude to return to a life they once knew. Unbroken may be rated PG but in my opinion it should have been given a higher rating because there is a lot of physical and mental abuse depicted in this film, which would be hard for kids to understand.
Most war movies have a lot of fight scenes and although Unbroken is set in World War II there is not a lot of battle scenes. The majority of the film is shot in the prisoner of war camps where Louis takes beating after beating and keeps getting back up. I’d say that Jack O’Connell will get nominated for Best Actor for his work as Louis Zamperini because it is so raw and powerful. There are no words to describe the experiences that Louis suffered through and director Angeline Jolie tried her best to showcase his struggles and his burning desire to survive. O’Connell takes punches and bamboo stick shots to his head and face which causes him to bleed out all over the place. He is not a built or rugged guy and manages to survive everything to inspire his fellow prisoners to never give up.
One of the things that bugged me about the Louis character is he was always cleaned shaved, even after being stranded in a water raft for 47 days. I find it kind of hard to believe they had access to shaving kits out in the ocean and in the prison camps. If the director and writer were trying to show us how hard life really was, this was something they missed. Everyone around him had beards and were very dirty looking from not being to have a fresh shower in months. His appearance was a really important part of telling the story, which had me thinking back to Tom Hank’s performance in Cast Away. He went all out in terms of his appearance when he was stuck on an island for over a year. While I’m talking about Cast Away and Hanks character, when Louis, Phil, and Mac get stranded on the water for 47 days it literally felt like forever. Hanks’ character was gone for so long that as I watched Unbroken I felt he was on a weekend holiday compared to these three guys. Their floating in the water scenes felt so slow and uneventful until they got shot at and rescued. When this 137 minute movie finally ended, it felt like the longest I have ever spent at the movies. I kept telling friends the slow pace and lack of action really made me feel like I watched all six Lord of the Rings/Hobbit movies in one sitting. It’s pace and story won’t be for everyone despite the storyline of over coming adversity.
Those were the only two flaws I found with Unbroken which is nothing new that moviegoers have never seen before. I give a lot of credit to Jack O’Connell and Angeline Jolie for giving us this amazing tale of survival. I know if I was in his shoes I would have been dead when the plane crashed and or I would have never made it 47 days out on the open water, so to survive both incidents and then spend years as a prisoner, Louis Zamperini is a real hero.
my final thoughts: I’m sure the majority of you have plans to see Unbroken or you already have. Some of you might shed a tear or two but at the end of the day there is nothing overly special about this prisoner of war movie. The sequences during the plane crash and the struggles of prison life are amazing for first time director Jolie, but won’t help Unbroken be better than what it could have been.
my star rating: 5 out 10
imdb: 6.7 out 10
rottentomatoes: 51% out 100%
roger ebert: 2.5 out 4
richard crouse: 3 out 5