"If I can take it I can make it."
Angelina Jolie’s second film behind the camera seems to have Oscar written all over it. Already it’s been nominated for best picture at the Critic’s Choice awards but if you look at its score on Rotten Tomatoes it has a rating of just 51%, a curious rating for a website made of critics opinions on a film nominated for an award based on critic’s opinions. So is there some misunderstanding here?
Olympic class runner Louis Zamperini’s athletic career is put on hold when he joins the US army following the breakout of WW2. After his plane crashes in the Pacific Ocean he survives adrift only to be picked up by a Japanese unit and taken to a POW camp.
Just in case you hadn’t realised, because every trailer hammers this fact into your head, this film is based on a true story. And it is quite an incredible story to say the least. Another big selling point is Jolie as a director and I can say that although there are some issues with the film (we’ll get there later) she has a real eye as a director. The movie is strikingly beautiful to watch and experience, painting a very different picture of combat here that results in a very interesting look and feel to this entire story, it really captured me while watching it.
It also has a good tone for catching the right mood. When we’re in the bomber we feel intense and claustrophobic, when we’re drifting in the ocean we feel lost and dazed, when we’re in the POW camp we feel desperate and exhausted. There’s some extraordinary shots and techniques employed during the stranded section of the film. The actors all give such great performances, first optimistic and then very slowly giving that aurora of dread as their chances of survival lessen by the hour, combined with Jolie’s eye for desolation on this scope allows you to be captivated.
Unbroken also seems to take pleasure in making its audience goes ‘how can someone actually get through this?’ It enjoys responding with ‘well someone really did’. The stress and pain that Zamperini continues to endure is felt by every audience member.
So far so good, but then things start to unravel. As he’s taken to the POW camp Unbroken seems to slow down when you expect it to speed up on some level. It just feels as if by the time it got to this stage no one attempted to alter the tone again. So far we’ve seen action and deprivation, so this section should promise a combination of both, which it does. But then it fails to deliver anything new as well, which is what it really needed. It needed to make a tweak to the scope or imagery or tone in some way to define this section.
The pace also feels slow by comparison, whether it’s because they used all of their tricks on the boat, it appears to be stretched a bit thin in terms of reaching the point that history requires it to. Although I enjoy films that don’t through in violence unless it adds to the scope or suits the tone of the film, in the POW camp there was a slight lack of brutality. Though on paper all of these torturous ordeals sound horrific, they don’t translate to the screen in the same way. When Zamperini is pummelled by guards it needs to have more of a ‘BOOM’ feel. It should be more brutal rather than being drawn out, which is what Unbroken actually does. Short but powerful, and I can’t help thinking that the film might work better in that format.
Though visually stunning, Unbroken doesn’t quite match the physical gravitas to match its unbelievable true story. It’s a beautiful story, but told without a punchline.