Saturday, 21 February 2015

Unbroken (2014)

Jack O'Connell stars in this look at the incredibly tough life of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete who was shot down during WWII, survived for 47 days in a raft, and then ended up in a Japanese POW camp where he became the target of a particularly vicious authority figure there. It's a story that shows the very best and worst of human nature, and the movie is highly recommended, even to those already familiar with the tale.

Directed by Angelina Jolie, this is a film that ticks all of the boxes. There are many moments here that we've all seen before, but they all add up to an impressive final product. And I guess this is one of those many occasions when truth seems stranger than fiction. It certainly has moments that feel very much like traditional Hollywood moments, but this is almost necessary to outweigh the darker sequences.

Using the book by Laura Hillenbrand as a template, the screenplay has been put together by William Nicholson, Richard LaGravenese, and the Coen brothers. Yes, you read that right. The Coen brothers. While no part of this ever feels like a Coen brothers movie, it's interesting to wonder just how much they contributed, and whether their presence is the reason that the film doesn't gloss over some nastier incidents that will make viewers flinch.

O'Connell is fantastic in the lead role, even if his accent isn't exactly spot on. Going through an incredible transformation between the beginning and end of the movie, he manages to keep showing inner strength and some kind of hope (sometimes for rescue and sometimes, I guess, for death), and keeps you rooting for him even as the odds of him surviving look to grow bigger and bigger. Domnhall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund and Finn Wittrock do well in their supporting roles, and Jai Courtney even manages not to irritate me during his brief time onscreen, but the other major figure in the movie is the nasty Watanabe, played by Takamasa Ishihara. He does superb work, creating a monster who has no real rhyme or reason to his actions. He takes a dislike to Zamperini from the very beginning and that is that.

Jolie does a fine job in the director's chair. As by-the-numbers as it is, there are a number of ways in which she refuses to go for the most obvious approach. The score by Alexandre Desplat is used more sparingly than you'd expect, for example, and the material is supported mainly by those central performances and some reliably fine work from Roger Deakins.

Unbroken doesn't rewrite the rulebook. It's a great story, and it's told well.


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