Recounting the incredible story of an American athlete at Berlin’s 1936 Olympic Games who, while serving his country in the Air Force in the Second World War, crash lands in the Pacific Ocean and survives 47 days adrift at sea only to float into enemy territory and live out the rest of the war in a Japanese POW camp, Unbroken is no doubt a story that needed to be told. And based on the true story of Louis Zamperini – who died before the film was completed,
Angelina Jolie’s film is a fitting elegy to the near forgotten hero. With another gritty performance from Jack O’Connell and ably supported by Domhnall Gleeson as fighter pilot “Phil” and Garrett Hedlund as fellow prisoner Fitzgerald, Unbroken‘s prime focus is on man’s indomitable spirit – his unbreakable will and dignity. But Jolie’s film is undermined by a lack of sensitivity towards Zamperini’s suffering, unable to plumb the depths of his pain and despair, recreating those moments in a pastiche of scenes borrowed from other films.
A sanitised, glorified account of suffering, Unbroken staggers from one moment of pain to the next with little care for the details of war or Louis himself, resulting in an emptiness looking to be filled with (American) national pride. Only the ending provides a glimmer of hope, as the credits report Zamperini’s post-war acts of forgiveness, even attempting a meeting with (but being refused by) his nemesis “The Bird”.
At times heavy-handed and simplistic, Unbroken is nevertheless a beautiful tribute to the triumph of the human spirit, Zamperini himself revealing that it’s not so much his physical strength and mental will, but rather his humanity that remains unbroken.
Unbroken | Directed by Angelina Jolie (USA 2014) with Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Takamasa Ishihara. Starts January 15