Almost a Triumph
A Film Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Unbroken, based on Laura Hillenbrand’s biography of the same name, is the story of U.S. Olympian and World War II veteran Louis Zamperini. It’s easy to see why the story of his life would become so anticipated in potential adaptations. Zamperini in one lifetime went through more trauma and struggle than most people ever do. Nor were his struggles small or insignificant. It’s a remarkable odyssey, from young immigrant child to an Olympian at the infamous 1936 Berlin Olympics to surviving a plane wreck at sea and managing to live through a series of Japanese concentration camps. Perhaps if it wasn’t a known reality, it wouldn’t have made the story nearly as compelling. In that vein, the film reminds me significantly of Argo, even though Unbroken simply isn’t as good of a film. Angelina Jolie’s second directorial effort, Unbroken is truly a solid film and the love and care for Zamperini’s story shines through. There’s a few significant issues, however, that keep Unbroken from becoming as great as the potential it had.
The script itself is the most ardent issue. It’s a well-written script, but with the Coen brothers in the team one could hardly expect otherwise. Yet the script itself proves that the film simply doesn’t have enough time to cover Zamperini’s entire story. It’s a common issue amongst biopics, who have to truncate the film to the most interesting moments in the life of their subject(s). Sometimes that approach works and at dsother times it feels like a clip show. Lost within this particular adaptation is perhaps the most significant omission that causes the film to lose quite a bit of suspense. It would have been a quick scene, a quiet scene that would have provided a great deal of emotional heft and dramatic irony simultaneously. At the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Zamperini shakes hands with Adolf Hitler, the man who would lead the world into a massive and bloody war, the war that would test Zamperini’s unbroken spirit down to the very core. I understand that adaptations have to get to the core of the story and really powerful sequences sometimes get cut in the process. But this is one scene that ought to have remained within the film.
Technically this film is absolutely flawless, there is no doubt about it. The great Roger Deakins (who has yet to win an Oscar for his work in cinematography, which surely has to rank amidst the most egregious errors the Academy has ever made) shot the film and it’s simply stunning. The war scenes are his greatest achievement within the film itself as he fills the screen with a mesmerizing morbidity, coloring the frames with a beautiful golden hue that shines despite the morbid horror unfolding on screen. The scenes of the plane wrecked soldiers drifting about in the water are heartbreaking, the despair of their eventual demise neatly settling within to create an atmosphere of sincere disturbance. If you haven’t read the book, you don’t really know who besides Zamperini is going to survive and the film successfully milks most of its tensions from those sequences.
As with Angelina Jolie’s previous directorial effort, her debut in In the Land of Blood and Honey that was about the Bosnian Civil War, Unbroken lacks an emotional component, which is acutely strange considering the subject matter at hand. Clinically Jolie is fantastic at direction. Her shots of the war zones and the drifting in the ocean are special standouts, where she manages to imbue the entire experience with a resilient morbidity that nevertheless allows a sliver of hope to shine through. From the concentration camps and onwards, however, the emotional kick that ought to have existed is sort of just empty from screen. Alexandre Desplat’s incredible score is beautifully weaved in the film, yet there are significant moments when the disparity of emotion between the music and the actual film are too noticeable. Some of that strums from Zamperini simply being too unbroken throughout the film. There is no doubt of his extraordinary resilience when so many would have faltered, but for so much of the film, we simply see him as unbroken and not actually suffering or showing the negative aspects he has. He becomes great but not relatable, not intimately understandable. Come to think of it, that can describe the film as a whole.
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Directed by: Angelina Jolie
Produced by: Matthew Baer, Angelina Jolie, Erwin Stoff, Clayton Townsend
Screenplay by: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, William Nicholson
Based On: Unbrokwn by Laura Hillenbrand
Starring: Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Miyavi, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Cinematography: Roger Deakins
Editing: Tim Squyres
Production Company: Legendary Pictures, Jolie Pas, 3 Arts Entertainment
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Running Time:137# minutes
Release Dates: November 17, 2014 (Sydney premiere), December 25, 2014
Image Courtesy: Van City Buzz