Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Unbroken



Louis Zamperini (Jack O'Connell) is an Olympic athlete who becomes a soldier during World War II. After his plane is shot down, he is stranded on a life raft with two of his fellow soldiers; Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) and Mac (Finn Wittrock). Eventually, a Japanese ship approaches them, and brings them to land, where they become prisoners of war in a number of camps, under the order of "the Bird" (Miyavi) who draws particular attention to Louis.

Unbroken is a difficult film to discuss. This marks Angelina Jolie's second directorial attempt, although her previous film perhaps wasn't subjected to as much media attention as this, and it is clear that she is still new to being behind the camera, as opposed to in front of it. The story of Unbroken is extraordinary, it borders on unbelievable, but the way it is told fails in so many ways, making this more a frustrating experience than a good film. It is clear that Jolie wanted to tell this story well, after all this is a story that deserves to be told with astonishing conviction, but I can't help but feel as if she has failed. Its 137 minute run-time never grows dull, and many of the performances are superb, but it's never a good sign when all that can be praised about a film came from actual events, rather than the filmmaker's decisions.

Jack O'Connell is fantastic here, though. Moving into the mainstream after a short series of lesser known films, he takes the limelight with determination, and succeeds. Whilst Jolie and writers Joel & Ethan Coen fail in making O'Connell's character sympathetic or relatable (the latter would be difficult, granted), O'Connell himself plays the role with conviction and an emotional likability that is present from beginning to end. Also good is Finn Wittrock, fresh from his current appearances on American Horror Story: Freak Show, who, despite limited screen-time, manages to engage the audience and make us feel something for him and care how far he makes it, which regrettably cannot be said for O'Connell's Louis. But, in a film of mediocrity and pure averageness (a word I think I just made up), the acting is something to behold.

But, Unbroken's pride and joy is its story. A story so bold and unpredictable that it could (and probably would) hook anyone from the offset. This is a tale of survival, determination and courage that spans one of the darkest eras in human history, focusing on one life and the journey that man went on. Which is what makes it so disappointing that Jolie fails to inject any life into the film. Unbroken will not bore you, you will want to know every detail of this story with such depth, and the over two hour run-time soars by. But with a story so extraordinary, you can't help but wish for an extraordinary visual style, an innovative approach to storytelling and one hell of an emotional punch at the end.

But Unbroken falls flat on all accounts. The visual style remains blandly average, with nothing to set it out from other war time dramas. The narrative structure is far too conventional and formulaic to allow for any unexpected twists and turns, and what should be an unpredictable story becomes very, very obvious. The ending should be a heart wrenching, tear jerking moment, but instead it might just about make you feel something, if you're lucky or really determined to cry. Nothing here is actively bad, but none of Jolie's directorial decisions can live up to the story she is trying to tell. In a film that should blow you away at every twist and turn, you start being able to see them coming, a trait that never bodes well when telling a true story. Jolie clearly made this film with good intentions, and the story itself is worth investing your time in, but Unbroken is far from the film it should have been.

To Summarise: It doesn't hit anywhere near as hard as it should due to its formulaic storytelling and lackluster cinematic style, but Unbroken just about remains a captivating, well acted war drama thanks to its powerful true story.



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