Monday, January 19, 2015


The latest high-profile WWII movie epic--following George Clooney's THE MONUMENTS MEN and Brad Pitt's FURY--is Angelina Jolie's UNBROKEN, based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand.

UNBROKEN tells of the war experiences of Louie Zamperini, who ironically was a member of the 1936 American Olympic Track team which competed in Nazi-ruled Berlin. Zamperini served as a bombardier in a B-24 which went down in the Pacific Ocean. Zamperini survived 47 days in a life raft, and then was captured by the Japanese, who kept him as a POW until the end of the war.

Zamperini's story is one of those stranger-than-fiction tales that makes ordinary Hollywood screenplays look juvenile. Despite the various travails that Zamperini faces, he never gives up or gives in--he is inspired by his older brother's motto of "If you can take it, you can make it." (I kind of wish that producer-director Jolie had shed more light on Zamperini's indomitable will--there has to be more to it than just a mere slogan.)

UNBROKEN is very much a visual film, which is to its credit. There's not really a lot of dialogue--a story like this doesn't need excessive talking to let the audience know what is going on. Angelina Jolie was smart enough to get a master cinematographer like Roger Deakins to work on this project. Many of the shots are simply breathtaking....will Deakins finally win an Oscar for this?

There are two major action scenes in the film--a spectacular B-24 bombing mission at the very beginning, and the plane crash that strands Zamperini and two of his comrades in the Pacific. Despite this UNBROKEN is not a "blood & guts" war film--Jolie is able to show the conflict, and the brutality of some of the Japanese soldiers, without excessive gore. Jack O'Conner does a fine job in what must have been a very hard role as Louie Zamperini--most of the time Louie is reacting to things, rather than instigating them. Mention must also be made of Alexandre Desplat's moving score.

If UNBROKEN does have a problem, it is the ending. I have not read Laura Hillenbrand's book, but many who have say that the real ending is missing from the film. In the movie we are told on a title card that long after the war Zamperini actually sought out and forgave some of his Japanese captors--could you imagine how powerful this scene would have been if it was filmed?

I have to give Angelina Jolie credit for bringing UNBROKEN to the big screen. If someone like Jolie had not been involved with this story, I doubt it would have been made, at least not as a major feature film. There were a number of films based on the Allied POW experience in the Pacific--most notably THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI--in the 1950s and 60s, but there have been very few lately. I think the reason is political correctness--most filmmakers feel uneasy showing non-whites committing atrocities. I don't think Angelina Jolie (or Laura Hillenbrand, or Louis Zamperini, for that matter) was trying to make the Japanese look bad--she was trying to tell the real story of a man who used his faith and his will to survive conditions that would be insurmountable to most of us. Out of all the recent big-time WWII productions, UNBROKEN is by far the best.

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