Cast: Jack O'Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Finn Wittrock
Director: Angelina Jolie
Running time: 137 mins
Rating: M (violence)
Verdict: A handsome and conventional telling of a remarkable tale.
Two movies in and Angelina Jolie the director seems to have already developed a speciality. Her debut In the Land of Blood and Honey was about a Bosnian prisoner of war. Her follow-up is about another POW - Louis Zamperini, a US Olympic athlete who became a prisoner of the Japanese in WWII.
Jolie has turned his extraordinary survival story into a handsome and well-crafted film, though one with a very conventional approach.
It's a combination biopic, war, and disaster film, in which Jolie competently delivers action sequences, nostalgic flashbacks and intimate moments to tell the story of how a young man found the will to live in horrific circumstances.
It's Zamperini's story, portrayed by affable British actor Jack O'Connell, that moves you.
Zamperini was a track star in his high school years and competed in the 5000m finals of the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Joining the USAAF, Zamperini's bomber crashed into the Pacific in 1943 and with two other crewmen (Wittrock and Gleeson), he spent 47 days adrift at sea before being captured.
He was then incarcerated, firstly on the Marshall Islands and the Japanese mainland, where he was brutally beaten and dehumanised for two and a half years.
Near the end of the war, Zamperini was forced to become a slave labourer, working at a coal plant on Japan's west coast, in truly hellish conditions.
Based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand, the film required four writers to knock the script into shape, with earlier drafts re-written by Joel and Ethan Coen.
The result is neat and tidy, and understated script peppered with the occasional inspirational adage as "A moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory."
Unfortunately for us, that pain goes on for longer than a moment. At two and a half hours this could have benefited from tighter editing, especially in the lifeboat scenes. Other than a rather absurd moment when an attacking shark is hit by gunfire from a Japanese aircraft aiming at the survivors, we're taken through the predictable stages of sunburn, starvation, dehydration, catching fish and being harassed by sharks.
The lengthy running time is also caused by flashbacks to Zamperini's troubled childhood. Though character-informing, they are jarring and interrupt the more exciting moments of this film.
It's a shame too Unbroken ends with the conclusion of the war. It would have been nice to see how Zamperini dealt with what he'd been through and his view and understand his experiences. However, as a story about resilience and the power of human spirit go, this is an impressive one.
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