by Hope Madden
With Unbroken, Angelina Jolie’s second effort behind the camera, she proves she knows how to put together a team. Beginning with screenwriters Joel and Ethan Cohen (each with 4 Oscars, two apiece for writing) and extending to cinematographer Roger Deakins (11-time Oscar nominee) and the man behind the music, Alexandre Desplat (with his mere 6 Oscar noms), she’s given Louis Zamperini’s story the storytellers it deserves.
Their film shares the honestly amazing tale of an Olympic runner who finds himself adrift at sea and then held in a Japanese POW camp during WWII. If the film suffers from anything, it’s an overabundance of respect for the source material.
So much of Zamperini’s life just defies belief – if ever there was a true story destined for the big screen, it was his, and Jack O’Connell delivers the grit and spirit needed to pull off the tale. O’Connell may be new to many viewers, but this Brit has been quietly developing an impressive arsenal of work (Eden Lake, Starred Up, ’71). If this performance and film leave questions about Zamperini as a person, O’Connell certainly convinces when it comes to the man’s seemingly bottomless reserve of strength.
While you absolutely get the feeling that this is the guy you’d want with you if you were ever lost at sea, the film refuses to expound on what drives that buoyancy. Nor does it offer a glimpse at the conflicting emotional turmoil he would carry with him after the war.
The cast is large and O’Connell has the kind of easy charisma that makes most scenes feel intimate. The ensemble offers some memorable turns – from Domhnall Gleeson and Takamasa Ishihara, in particular – but too many actors fall back on broad stroke flying ace clichés and too few hold your interest.
Still, there’s no escaping the jaw-dropping facts of this adventure – facts which alone compel rapt attention for the duration of the film. Deakins’s images are on a scale befitting the epic, and Jolie has a knack for taking advantage of every inch of a screen.
Whatever Unbroken’s faults, the adventure will overwhelm you, as it should, and the facts and triumphs will stay with you long after the credits roll.