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Three Views: Unbroken

January 2, 2015

Unbroken Poster

Unbroken – A Universal Pictures Release

Release Date: December 25th, 2014
Rated 14A for disturbing content and graphic violence
Running Time: 137 minutes

Angelina Jolie (director)

Joel Coen (screenplay)
Ethan Coen (screenplay)
Richard LaGravenese (screenplay)
William Nicholson (screenplay)

Based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand

Alexandre Desplat (music)

Jack O’Connell as Louis Zamperini
Domhnall Gleeson as Phil
Garrett Hedlund as Fitzgerald
Finn Wittrock as Mac
Takamasa Ishihara as Watanabe
C.J. Valleroy as Young Louie


Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara) and Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) in Unbroken.

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Unbroken Review By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

An Olympic runner turned World War II survivor, who eventually forgave his captors and gave his life over to the Lord, the moving story of Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) is at the centre of Unbroken, Angelina Jolie’s second directorial effort.  The film mainly focuses on how the soldier survived in the middle of the ocean for 47 days after a plane crash, only to be captured and sent to a Japanese prisoner of war camp, where he endured torture from a cruel guard nicknamed the Bird (Takamasa Ishihara).

This is an incredible story, and Angelina Jolie has delivered a respectful and appropriately patriotic film, with some genuinely well done sequences.  The performances are all solid, with Jack O’Connell fully dedicating himself to the role, undergoing an impressive physical and emotional transformation throughout the course of Unbroken.  The production design is solid throughout, with the most impressive element being the work of legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, who has captured some memorable and beautifully framed images.

But strictly as a film, Unbroken is never as overtly moving as it should be, keeping a strange distance between us and the screen. The screenplay overall does a fine job of condensing the events recounted in Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling book, but the flashbacks feel largely glossed over.  Perhaps this story would have been better suited to a miniseries, where they would have had more time to explore the characters and full potential of the story.

Although there’s nothing inherently wrong with this overview approach, as the last big Oscar contender of 2014, the film does feel a touch limited.  But as it stands, Unbroken still functions as a good old fashioned war movie that plays well to a crowd, offering a reasonably engaging introduction to this inspiring true story about the resilience of the human spirit.

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Unbroken Review By Erin Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

In 1936, Italian-American Louis Zamperini ran at the Olympics in Berlin.  As a kid getting into trouble with the local sheriff, it was suggested that he take up running, and with his brother’s words “If you can take it, you can make it” in his head, he soon rose to the competitive scene.  Berlin was poised to be just the beginning of his Olympics runs, with his sights set on heading to Japan to try to win at the next Olympics.

Then the war broke out.  Zamperini joined the American army, and flew in a fighter plane.  During a search and rescue mission to look for another plane feared lost in the ocean, Zamperini’s own plane crashed.  Only three of the crewman (including him) initially survived, with only two staying alive for a total of 47 days before being ‘rescued’ by a Japanese ship.  Both Zamperini and his fellow crewman were quickly thrown into a POW camp upon being found.

Until the war’s end, Zamperini endured torture at the hands of the officer Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara), who ran the camp and ‘broke in’ the new arrivals.  His brother’s words remained in his head and he stayed as strong as he possibly could to survive to the end of the war.  While most of his time was in plainer refugee-type prison, towards the end of the war his time was spent in forced slave labour at a coal plant for the Japanese.

The film is well-enough made, however it does not delve as far into the story or characters as I had hoped.  The characters all feel fairly surface, while the actors do try to portray as much as they can of what is beneath.  I was never taken completely into the film, feeling always that I was watching it at a slight distance, rather than becoming completely invested.  It was as though the glass of the camera lens was separating me, (like the feeling you get when filming an experience rather than watching it without the barrier of a viewfinder), and the most intense moments I felt were more perceived as intense, then actually feeling intense.

While I had hoped for more, it is a story worth telling, and provides an interesting historical look.  The film is based on a book, which those looking for more on the story would be interested in seeking out.  It is worth seeing, but important to know what to expect.

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Unbroken Review By Tony Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

Unbroken is the true story of Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), from a 1920s juvenile delinquent (C.J. Valleroy) to a distance runner in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, to a bombardier shot down and surviving weeks on a life raft and the rest of the war in a Japanese POW camp. The camp commander Watanabe, nicknamed the “Bird” (Takamasa Ishihara, billed as Miyavi, his rock star name) was young and brilliant, but prone to fits of rage with Louis as the usual target of brutal beatings and other mistreatment. The film is dedicated to Zamperini’s determination to not only survive but keep his spirit unbroken.

This inspiring story, originally optioned by Universal in 1957 to star Tony Curtis, was discovered by Laura Hillenbrand while researching her book Seabiscuit, and the screenplay credits based on her subsequent 2010 book Unbroken include Richard LaGravenese and the Coen brothers. Director Angelina Jolie has struck a good balance between the brutality of the situations involved and the human reactions to them, particularly between the two main characters Zamperini and Watanabe.

Both O’Connell and Miyavi turn in excellent performances here, supported by a fine cast including Domhnall Gleeson and Garrett Hedlund as fellow prisoners. The production in real locations, with CGI limited to some aerial combat and underwater sequences, was beautifully shot by veteran Roger Deakins, and the eclectic musical score by Alexandre Desplat provides fine accompaniment to the action.

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Consensus: Although sometimes keeping a distance between us and the screen, director Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken still works as a handsomely produced overview of Louis Zamperini’s inspiring life story, with solid performances and memorable cinematography from the legendary Roger Deakins. ★★★ (out of 4)

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