‘Unbroken’ fails to fully capture an extraordinary life
By Bob Bloom
The life of Louis Zamperini was one of larger-than-life experiences.
“Unbroken” is a worthy effort, but it’s a formulaic biopic that adheres to the tried-and-true conventions of the genre.
“Unbroken” is just that; it follows a steady, even course, failing to provide any emotional peaks or valleys.
Zamperini lived an extraordinary life: The son of Italian immigrants, he was a juvenile delinquent, constantly in trouble with the law before his older brother forced him to begin running in order to channel his aggressive tendencies.
Zamperini became a champion runner, winning a spot on the 1936 Olympic team, where he excelled at the infamous Berlin games.
During World War II, he served on a bomber, was shot down and was adrift in a raft in the Pacific Ocean for 47 days before being rescued by Japanese soldiers.
As a prisoner-of-war, he suffered horrific physical abuse at the hands of his captors.
Such a story should drain a moviegoer mentally and physically.
Instead, Jolie presents the film in an impersonal, distant manner that doesn’t really allow you to get to know Zamperini.
He is presented more as a symbol than a flesh-and-blood individual.
As Zamperini, Jack O’Connell works hard to show the man’s perseverance, courage and fortitude. And while he succeeds, you still come away with the nagging sensation that you never really are able to get under his skin to see what makes Zamperini tick.
Jolie creates some very fine sequences. The time Zamperini and two fellow crewmembers spend on their raft is harrowing, but heartwarming. It emphasizes the bonds of brotherhood that unite people at such dire times.
The prisoner-of-war sequences are disturbing and brutal. Never explained, though, is why Zamperini was singled out for the excessive abuse.
It is hinted that’s it simply because he was an Olympian. But that seems too cheap and pedestrian.
“Unbroken” is a good, solid feature. Unfortunately, the subject matter called for something bigger and grander befitting the life of this heroic figure.
Zamperini’s victory was that he endured. Unfortunately, this chronicle of his life probably will not.
Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at Reel Bob (reelbob.com) and The Film Yap (filmyap.com). He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom. Other reviews by Bloom can be found at Rottentomatoes: www.rottentomatoes.com.
2½ stars out of 4
(PG-13), graphic, brutal and disturbing violence, language