I dedicated a week of my winter holidays this year to watching a variety of newly released films in the cinema. The number of new releases was unsurprising, given that awards season was drawing closer, but I found that I had more films on my 'To Watch' list than I had expected. One film that I was particularly looking forward to seeing was "Unbroken," a war film directed by Angelina Jolie, inspired by the true story of US Olympian Louis "Louie" Zamperini. The movie focuses heavily on how Zamperini spent 47 days on a life raft after his plane was shot down during World War II, and his subsequent captivity in various prisoner of war camps in Japan.
Flashbacks throughout the film reveal Zamperini's difficult childhood - his Italian background made him an easy target for bullies and this made him a mischievous and rebellious young boy until his older brother began training him as a runner. Years of hard work paid off when Zamperini was selected to participate in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. However, it is Zamperini's very status as a former Olympian that singles him out for abuse at the hands of a Japanese corporal known as "The Bird." His resilience is tested as he is constantly beaten and humiliated, but ultimately, he remains unbroken, as suggested by the film's title. The film ends on a positive note as the war ends and Zamperini is reunited with his family. Real life footage of Zamperini running with the Olympic Torch in the 1998 Japanese Olympics is also shown before the credits.
For me personally, a film like "Unbroken" has all the ingredients necessary to become one of my all-time favourite movies. I am perpetually drawn to war films, especially those set in the World War II era, and when coupled with a stellar cast, my expectations of the film tend to be very high. "Unbroken" started off well, boasting some spectacular cinematography during the first half of the film, particularly when Zamperini and his companions were stranded on the life raft. Jack O'Connell's portrayal of Zamperini was also phenomenal. The audience sees the harrowing transformation of his body from that of an athlete to a bag of skin and bones. O'Connell also overcame the challenges of script with little dialogue by conveying a wide range of emotions through only his expressions, allowing viewers to empathize with Zamperini throughout the film. I found Jolie's choice to use silence in moments of tension interesting and unusual, and I feel that she executed this aspect of this film well.
Despite the film's positive points, I, unfortunately, left the cinema unsatisfied. I found that Jolie's direction as a whole, while well-intended, failed to emphasize the connection between the obstacles Zamperini overcame in his quest to become an Olympic runner and those he faced as a prisoner of war. As the audience saw Zamperini being tortured, the flashbacks to his past as a runner did little to add to the story; they simply informed the viewers that Zamperini was once an athlete rather than showing that his determination to be the best is what made him ultimately survive the terrible ordeals he was put through till the very end of the war. As a result, I found that Zamperini's triumphs in the movie lacked impact. To me, the real footage of Zamperini running with the Olympic Torch was more powerful than what Jolie was able to deliver through her direction of the film. I also wish Jolie expanded more on the relationship between Zamperini and The Bird. I feel that the torture scenes would have been more effective if she had explored the relationship in greater detail, as opposed to simply touching upon it during a few moments in the film.
Overall, I feel that despite Jolie's best intentions and the obvious talent of the others involved in "Unbroken," the film fell short in telling Zamperini's story and communicating the true gravity of the experiences he had as a prisoner of war.