"If you can take it, you can make it."
Louis Zamperini (1917 - 2014)
Unbroken is based on the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympian track runner, WWII bombardier, who overcame the horrors of war, was an alcoholic, family man and a spokesperson that lived an extraordinary life. This mesmerizing tale is about an incorrigible youth who channeled defiance into running and became a track star in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. A month later as a B-24 bombardier in WWII, Zamperini finds himself in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a raft without food for 47 days with sharks circling only then to become a prisoner of war (POW) in a Tokyo, Japan and thus the saga unfolds.
Jack O'Donnell - Louis Zamperini
The movie opens promisingly "Spielberg-like" with Zamperini, Jack O'Connell, as a bombardier fighting the Japanese in a harrowing airshow of planes and bullets. Phil, Domhall Gleeson, is a pilot flying the plane over Japanese territory. The flashbacks to Zamperini's childhood sets the tone of the film with scenes of a troubled teen and brother Pete, Alex Russell, encouraging Louis to take up running and track. The mantra, "If you can take it, you can make it" becomes a lifelong mantra that is carried out during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany and now in the sky over the Pacific Ocean. Eventually, the plane lands only to be sent up again on a futile rescue mission that ends with the crew crashing into the ocean. In two lifeboats, Phil, Louis and Mac, Finn Wittrock, remain struggling to survive for 47 days, only to be rescued and escorted to a Japanese prison-camp with a sadistic commander Watanabe, (Japanese pop star Miyavi) at the helm creating unrelenting evil.
Angelina Jolie, director, carefully crafted the filming of the movie with a keen eye on detail from the sky, to the ocean and ending with the brutality of the prison camps. The flashbacks provide a glimpse of young Zamperini who was fearless, unruly, lawless and determined. The film is visually stunning with the sharks circling the boat, special effects, stylized shoots from different angles to the subtle references of God throughout the film. Additionally, an optimistic theme of survival is interlaced throughout every scene. When the men are first in the lifeboat, Mac exclaims, "We are all going to die!". Louis and Phil instead have an optimistic view and refuse to give into defeat or hold onto negativity. No whining or moaning were in these born fighters thoughts or vocabulary. Louis makes a pack with God and is on a mission to survive no matter the cost. Jolie also paints for the audience that Zamperini was part of a collective team and not out for himself. For instance, when Mac had eaten all the chocolate on the lifeboat, Louis forgives him and when Mac is on his last legs, Louis gives him the last piece of chocolate. Or at the Japanese war camp, when Louis is brutally beaten by all of his peers in order to save one man, the audience understands that Zamperini took a sadistic beating for good of the whole, saving one man from brutal pain rather than saving himself. Conversely, Watanabe, was self absorbed, self focused, wartime cruel and obsessed on breaking the mentally tough Zamperini. Watanabe deep down understood that Zamperini embodied everything he was not.
Jolie hits strong notes of compassion, a collective collaboration of humankind and portrays the inspirational spirit of Zamperini with gusto. What is lacking in the film is thorough character and story development. Questions arise as to why Zamperini was so positive? Was it genetics? What made him so special? Was it family origin where the Italian Zamperini family desperately wanted to fit it? Did this spur Zamperini on to survive no matter what? More importantly, after the war when drugs and alcohol almost cost Zamperini's his marriage, what saved him? Of course, the book builds upon (not the movie) Zamperini's strong faith in God and finding religion after the war through a Billy Graham revival. The movie could have taken a deeper turn and perhaps focused on the aftermath where Zamperini grows and finds forgiveness and reconciliation. However, the film is about Zamperini's childhood and the horrors of surviving the war. The remainder of Zamperini's life is encapsulated in real life photos and words.
O'Connell, is brilliant as Zamperini, and should have been nominated for a Golden Globe. Ishihara, also is mesmerizing as "The Bird". The chemistry between these two actors was well played. Jolie, director, and friend of Zamperini's, captured the essence of Zamperini's wartime experiences but misses an overall satisfying finale. The film is moving, stunning, violent and an adventure drama where suffering is the central theme versus heroism. It just seemed a bit lacking that the best part of Zamperini's life was not examined. Perhaps this alludes to a second film or perhaps since Louis Zamperini, who passed away this summer at age 97 lived such an extraordinary life that it was impossible to encapsulate a rich, vibrant and almost unbelievable tale into 2 1/2 hours. Either way, Jolie, is definitely on the right path of becoming a great storyteller and filmmaker. And, O'Connell, British, is the new and rising star in Hollywood.
"Perseverance is important to everybody."
"Don't give up."
"Don't give in."
"There is always an answer to everything."
"There is always an answer to everything."