On the Silver Screen – Unbroken

Dec 30, 2014 | Posted by in Movies

Angelina Jolie’s second directorial effort Unbroken is the story of Olympic Athlete turned soldier Louis Zamperini’s (Jack O’Connell) heroic struggle to survive amidst tremendous adversity after his plane crashes during World War II.

It could be said that Unbroken is two films. The first is a survival movie aboard a life raft in the middle of the ocean and the second is a POW camp drama. On balance I would say I enjoyed the ocean survival aspects of the film more as I found this aspect to be better constructed than the rest.

The camaraderie between the 3 marooned soldiers worked really well and the bleakness of the situation was put across excellently. In some ways it reminded me of Life of Pi which had a similar premise with entirely different execution. This film was much more grounded in the reality of the situation instead of the fantastical uplifting aspects in Life of Pi. Seeing the soldiers grow weaker from hunger and their spirits start to break the more the days drag on is really harrowing. There are enough events peppered through these quiet scenes to keep it from being 3 men deteriorating in a raft over the course of several weeks. I never felt that this part of the film overstayed its welcome in any way and I was eager to see more exploration of the characters struggling to keep their spirits up and remain sane over their long exile at sea.

UnbrokenFollowing this Zamperini is captured by the Japanese Navy and sent to a POW camp where he has to endure repeated displays of brutal torture at the hand of Watanabe or Bird (Takamasa Ishihara). This part of the film was not easy to watch with the brutality not disguised in any way. I do wonder how this film managed to get the PG-13 certificate with all of the violence on display. O’Connell does a fantastic job of showing the pain being caused him on a physical and emotional level and the story moves along at a decent clip for the most part. There are some moments where the film slows to something of a crawl but not enough to derail the overall experience.

The characterisation of Bird is where it all falls apart. I’m not overly familiar with the real life history of this event but from watching the film I got the impression that there was a depth to the man that didn’t come across clearly. There were shades of homosexual tendencies from him as well as hints that he might be regretting the pain he is inflicting on people. These things were part of the narrative but feel like holdovers from a longer cut. I think framing an antagonistic yet respectful relationship between these characters was the intention but something was lost in the execution.

As with many biographical films the ending feels a little rushed. We get the usual wall of text with some archive footage/photographs without any significant wrap up. It would have been interesting to see Zamperini dealing with the Post Traumatic Stress following his lengthy incarceration and how that affects his home life. That would have given us a 3 pronged narrative but it might have supplied some closure on the story.

  • 7.5/10
    Unbroken - 7.5/10


Angelina Jolie proves to be a capable director and puts across a solid and at times emotionally affecting WWII story.

Jack O’Connell gives a note perfect performance as his character weathers the mistreatment and brutality at the hands of his captors.

At times the film suffers from the binary focused narrative of the 2 separate events. The strongest aspects of the story occur when the 3 men are lost at sea following a plane crash. When it transitions to the POW camp the story is a little more uneven but still well executed for the most part.

I am surprised this film snuck through with a PG-13 rating given the violent displays shown. I found parts of it really shocking to look at.

As with many biographical films it suffers from a weak ending that ignores the implications of what the characters have been through. Some time spent on the consequences would have been interesting to watch.

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