Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey’ was a big surprise – set in the Bosnian war not only was it a far cry from the Hollywood movies she has appeared in, but also a subtly moving drama. In her new film ‘Unbroken’ Jolie takes the powerful punches a couple of notches further, but unfortunately adds a ton of Hollywood masala to offset the emotional impact.
Starring Jack O’Connell who rendered 2014’s best acting performance in the terrific ‘Starred Up’, ‘Unbroken’ is a true story about Louis Zamperini, an American Olympian athlete who joins the air force in WW2, gets marooned at sea when his plane crashes, then becomes a prisoner of war in a Japanese torture camp. It really is an incredible journey, and it’s great that the story is accounted by the Coen brothers who co wrote the script. The film also looks very good, thanks to the great Roger Deakins behind the cameras. The performances from O’Connell and Domhnall Gleeson are also very good. The opening scene, where a fighter plane is deployed over the Japanese coast full of bombers is thrilling as hell. It’s got a lot going for it, and it’s a perfectly serviceable film. It’s just not very memorable and inspiring – two things it desperately wants to be but never once meets the target.
After the thrilling opening scene ‘Unbroken’ breaks off into a schmaltzy vibe. Every dramatic turn is compounded by dramatic ‘WW2 movie music’ – it doesn’t move you more, it just undoes the already powerful stuff happening on the screen. The storytelling is also kind of a mess – in the first half the film constantly cuts from interesting dramatic plot points to the past, thereby extinguishing any sense of tension and thrill. The men in the film are also ‘too handsome’ - while this might not be intentional but it does come across as jarring – lots of movies are derided for having the male gaze, so this one can be criticized for having the female gaze. Apart from O’Connell and Gleeson (who loses a ton of weight for the film), the whole cast looks like a bunch of male models pretending to be soldiers. And no amount of dirt, grime and production values make up for the clearly manipulative ending.
The most interesting aspect of the film is the psychological war between Zamperini and the brutal Japanese camp head ‘The Bird’ played by the Japanese singer Miyavi. Some of the exchanges between them are so over the top they seem manufactured for drama, so it’s quite unsettling to know that Zamperini actually went through all that torture and lived to tell the tale. This is a fairly decent movie, but Zamperini deserved a much better one.
(First published in MiD Day)