Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

'Unbroken' celebrates, and saps, human spirit

Angelina Jolie's "Unbroken" catalogues the endurance and suffering of runner, soldier, POW Louis Zamperini, but fails to connect emotionally.

Jack O'Connell as Louis Zamperini, who survived many disasters and indignities, but is just a serial punching bag in this film.
Jack O'Connell as Louis Zamperini, who survived many disasters and indignities, but is just a serial punching bag in this film.Read more

THE "UNBROKEN" website asks fans to post their own stories of resilience, and they won't have to look far for ideas.

Just making it through all 2 hours and 20 minutes of the movie will surely qualify.

Angelina Jolie's "Unbroken" is a handsomely photographed catalog of grisly suffering that covers the relevant biographical details of its subject, Louis Zamperini, but has little of the emotional pull of its source material, Laura Hillenbrand's best-selling book.

Zamperini was the Californian, wayward and scrapping son of Italian immigrants, who grew to be an Olympic runner, then became a World War II bombardier who survived a plane crash only to ditch at sea in another mission, survive 47 days at sea, then suffer a longer period of torture and brutal incarceration in Japanese prison camps.

You see all of it in "Unbroken": Zamperini bullied as a kid, bounced around in a B-24, starving in a raft, menaced by sharks, strafed by a plane, getting punched in the face by an entire POW camp on the orders of a sadistic Japanese soldier and abused in a dozen other ways (all punctuated with stirring music to alert you to the moment when he's made another triumph of endurance).

And that's pretty much all you see.

The movie's Zamperini is a strangely disconnected figure who exists on screen only to suffer. He has few meaningful friendships, and the movie glides superficially over his biographical history without landing on important personal connections (Domhnall Gleeson gets closest, as Zamperini's war buddy, but he disappears midway through).

The movie seems most interested in the dynamic between Zamperini and his main Japanese abuser (androgynous Japanese pop star Miyavi, a strange and distracting choice), but it mainly makes you wish you were watching Strother Martin and Paul Newman in "Cool Hand Luke."

"Unbroken" leaves you with enormous respect for what Zamperini endured but little emotional connection to it. It's not until the epilogue that "Unbroken" stumbles upon its first truly moving scene - actual footage of an 80-year-old Zamperini running a marathon in Tokyo, where he returned to make a public declaration of his willingness to forgive his captors, in keeping with his faith (referenced in the movie's Christian imagery and themes).

You wonder if Jolie may have missed a bet by not showing Zamperini later in life, wrestling with post-traumatic stress, drawing on his beliefs to make peace with his tormentors and himself. "Railway Man" did that recently in telling the true story of a British POW, which may be why it's a more engaging movie.