Friday, February 6, 2015

Unbroken Review

Hollywood has been spamming us with biopics for the upcoming Oscar season. We had Stephen Hawking in The Theory of Everything, Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, Margaret Kane in Big Eyes, and Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma. Some were outstanding, and others were blatant Oscar bait. The final biopic of the season, as far as I know, is about Louis Zamperini in Unbroken (2014). Louie was a USA Olympian athlete who was a prisoner of war in Japan during World War II. While the movie was overall good, it had some weak points that made it something less than what it was striving to be.
Sometime after setting a world record at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Germany Louis "Louie" Zamperini (Jack O'Connell) joins the US Military as a bombardier. In 1943, Louie and a crew are sent out on a search and rescue mission in a plane that had previously been used for spare parts. During the mission, both engines fail causing them to crash in the ocean. Louie, Francis "Mac" McNamara (Finn Wittrock), and Russell "Phil" Phillips (Domhnall Gleeson) are the only survivors and last for an incredible forty-seven days in a raft only to be caught by the Japanese Navy and sent to different prisoner-of-war camps. The camp in Tokyo, where Louie is sent, is headed by Japanese corporal Mutsuhiro "The Bird" Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara). Watanabe is cruel and sadistic and is bent on breaking the spirit of this US Olympian, but he has his work cut out for him when faced Louie's relentless determination to survive.
Unbroken was directed by Angelina Jolie and written by Joel and Ethan Coen. This is Jolie's second directorial work and she does a great job. It's a visually striking movie, bleak and dark, and elegantly filmed with intensity. There was virtually no part of the movie that didn't look excellent. The Coen Brothers are known for writing and directing some excellent movies including No Country For Old Men, The Big Lebowski, and True Grit. Together this team ought to have made a stellar movie. They did make a pretty good one, but it's a one trick pony.
The story is well organized with flashbacks to Louie's childhood, showing us where he learned his resilience, and details his experience in World War II. While this is interesting and even inspiring, it's as if each scene serves to illustrate only one point; that Louie is very determined. We see Louie stand up to bullies, he's determined. Louie sets a world record at the Olympics, he's determined. He survives a crash landing, he's determined. He survives on a raft, he's determined. It goes on like this for the whole movie. By the end, you'll know that Louie was very determined. Even when Watanabe and Louie are fiercely at odds with one another, we still get the point that Louie is determined. For the sort of prestige this movie was going for, it doesn't really delve into commentary about life or the human condition. It's almost like a long epic version of a motivational poster. It had great opportunity to explore man's cruelty to man or comment on the human spirit, but it was content to simply show us how extraordinarily determined Louie was, and that weakened the story in terms of depth and theme.  This isn't to say that it was bad, I really did enjoy it. It was just surprisingly simple for something the Coen Brothers had written.
The movie is based on the biography of Louis Zamperini. I have not yet read it, but after seeing some of the things Louie went through, I'm very curious to read more about him. I'm sure there was more to the man than simply being determined. This depiction of Louie was a shining example of values and bravery that people had back in the day, or at least what we fondly like to think they had. This is an artist's depiction of a real person and real events tied together with a central theme. Because this is an artistic interpretation, creative liberties were probably taken. Though it being based on a biography, there were probably very few. This depiction of Louie failed to be a three-dimensional character, even though it praised his integrity as a person.
When compared to the other biopics that were released this awards season Unbroken has barely made a mark, which is too bad since it was an enjoyable and interesting movie. There were some fine performances and well-staged sequences, especially during the bombing of the Japanese-held island of Nauru. Zamperini's story becomes strangely dull thanks to the length and repetitiveness of many of the sequences. Interesting, but dull. Jolie has talent as a director, make no mistake! After seeing this, I fully expect to see her make a truly outstanding film one day. Unbroken doesn't hold a candle up to The Imitation Game or Selma, but I still recommend seeing it. For what it was, it was good.

What has been your favorite movie this Oscar season? Comment below and tell me why!

No comments:

Post a Comment