Written by Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson / Directed by Angelina Jolie / Starring Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund and Takamasa Ishihara
Pete Zamperini: A moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory.
Perhaps drawing from the title of her second film, UNBROKEN, actress turned director, Angelina Jolie seems to believe that if something isn’t broken then there is no real reason to attempt fixing it. This is the only explanation I can think of for her taking an incredibly inspiring story of the strength of the human spirit and turning it into a contrived and conventional biopic. Olympic track star turned prisoner of war, Louis Zamperini’s life is an astounding one, and one that is definitely worth telling, but Jolie treats her subject so coldly and so calculatedly that is hard to assess whether she cares about him at all or whether she just cares about making a picture that will garner awards notice.
Zamperini lived a full life. Sadly he died earlier this year at the age of 97, before the film of his life was completed. He grew in rural New York and for a while, it seemed like his life was going nowhere. Then, through the guidance of his older brother, he found track running. He exhibited a natural talent for sport and found himself competing in the Germany Olympics, just before WWII broke out. These particular attempted were never meant to be his moment to shine but he still made a name for himself. Sadly though, that would be the end of his Olympic career as, by the time he found himself in Tokyo, Japan, where the next Olympics were due to take place, it was as a prisoner of war. The journey between these two points was a tortuous one; his spirit was consistently challenged but never broken, hence the title.
I’ve no doubt that Zamperini was beat down and his resolve tested even more so than what is shown in UNBROKEN but the tone does not invite us to care about the actual rather person. Instead, despite an admirable and impressive performance by relative newcomer, Jack O’Connell, Zamperini comes across as some sort of super human who can withstand almost anything and get back up. It doesn’t help that he has to face off with one particular prisoner of war camp officer (Takamasa Ishihara) who makes their relationship personal, and therefore incredibly painful. Their vendetta comes across as forced because it is simply so outlandish. I am not saying that the events that transpired between them were this heinous but when telling a true story, one must be selective with which truths will make the proper point and which truths are just too excessive to be believed.