Unbroken (2014)

Director: Angelina Jolie
Writers: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, William Nicholson,  Laura Hillenbrand (book)
Stars: Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Finn Wittrock, Jai Courtney, Alex Russell, Garrett Hedlund
Running Time:  137 mins.

To say that “Unbroken”, which chronicles the life of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who was taken prisoner by Japanese forces during World War II, is hard to watch is not an understatement.  The man went through hell and survived, a testament to sheer willpower and finally luck as American forces beat the Japanese before Zamperini succumbed to the hideous brutality of one sadistic Japanese Commander.

Zamperini’s life story is truly heroic and awe inspiring and the film has been long in the making and while all the elements are there: his troubled youth, his turn around into Olympic runner, wartime bombadier, aerial battles, plane crash, survival at sea in a life raft for 47 days and horribly brutalized prisoner of war, the film is actually a bit of a disappointment.  And it’s not the acting or direction that’s at fault.  Both are terrific.  

Jack O’Connell is highly effective as Louis Zamperini.  He gets strong support from his raft mates played by Domhnall Gleeson as Russell Allen ‘Phil’ Phillips and Finn Wittrock as Francis ‘Mac’ McNamara and fellow POW John Fitzgerald played by Garrett Hedlund.  Equally intense is  actor/composer/rock star Takamasa Ishihara (Miyavi) playing the sadistic Corporal Mutsushiro Watanabe, a.k.a.  “The Bird”, the nickname given him by other prisoners who dare not speak anything harsher upon fear of death.

Direction is solid; shots are composed well; the editing flowed and made sense.  The problem is that script itself did not quite rise to the enormity of the life being told.  The majority is spent on Zamperini’s harsh POW experience and everything else gets shortchanged.  Even his triumph at getting into and performing in the Olympics seems glossed over.

Lotta says the tagline on the poster is “Survival” (check), “Resilience” (check), “Redemption” (nothing).  There are a few text over end credits which mention his post-war struggles with PTSD, alcoholism and redemption through religion, but none are explored.  And yet, those would be very important to the telling of Mr. Zamperini’s inspiring true story.  Surviving the horrific experiences as POW is astounding, yes, but battling PTSD, substance abuse and getting to the point where you can actually forgive those who tortured you nearly to death, all while being married, is a story I really think would be worth watching.

“Unbroken” is definitely worth seeing for the commitment to the truth of the horrors suffered by American forces at the hands of the Japanese during WWII and that of one man’s physical and spiritual strength which allowed him to survive.