Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Movie Review: "Unbroken"

I am always worried for actors when they try their hand at directing.  For every Mel Gibson, Emilio Estevez, or Kevin Costner, there are countless others that try and just never seem to get a good handle on it.  The biggest misconception that I think a lot of actors make is that since you're an actor you can direct actors better, and while that may be true, they're ignoring a lot of the other elements that make great directors.  A director needs to not only be able to work well with actors, but they also need to have an ability to lead, to be able to see the bigger picture, and most importantly, to create the visual language of the movie.  It's this last one that I feel a lot of actors trying their hand at directing struggle with the most.  Fortunately for Angelina Jolie, she manages to prove that she is a very adept director with a strong visual style to go with her ability to work with actors.  Her second film as a director, Unbroken, is as good of a film as any other director could make.

Unbroken tells the amazing true story of Louie Zamperini, an Olympic track athlete who was a bombardier in World War II.  When his plane crashes in the Pacific Ocean, his arduous journey begins.  From being adrift at sea, to being a POW in a Japanese prison camp, Louie's journey is one of discovering extreme inner strength, perseverance, and ultimately the ability to forgive through faith in God.  Simply put, this is the type of film that is rarely getting made anymore, and it is the sort of movie that even 15 years ago would have swept the Oscars, but cynicism and political correctness rule today.

What strikes me most about Unbroken is just how powerful it is through showing us very little about Zamperini other than his service in World War II.  While there are a few flashbacks highlighting his childhood and his accomplishments in the Olympics, probably 95% of the movie is all about his experiences lost at sea or as a prisoner of war.  It is through this crucible that we learn more about who Zamperini was, tying into the best line of the whole film, "If I can take it, I can make it."  In so many ways, that's one of those sayings that perhaps everyone should live their life by.  Louie did, while he had his moments of doubt and fear, he ultimately remembered those words when times were at their worst, and he managed to come out the other side.

The cast of up-and-coming actors all deliver exceptional performances and really dedicate themselves to these roles to make this film believable.  Japanese pop star, Miyavi, is malicious and so perfect as, "The Bird," the officer in charge at Louie's POW camp, and it's a shame that a year after Barkhad Abdi managed to find critical love for a similar type of role, Miyavi doesn't seem to be having as much luck with awards.  Of course, a film like this needs actors you can root for if you are to buy their struggles, and more importantly, actors that go that extra mile to sell the reality of a true story such as this.  Jack O'Connell and Domhnall Gleeson, respectively playing Louie and his friend Phil, both lost tons of weight to make the impact greater when they are forced to strip down in front of Japanese soldiers and you see their sunken stomachs and sallow cheeks.  That type of actorly commitment only comes when you have a director you can trust and when you know you are working on a great story, and that is exactly what Unbroken is, it's a story that anyone who is a human being can relate to and be moved by.

I often think of watching movies as therapy.  A good movie is always therapeutic for me, whether it's a story that makes me think differently about a particular subject like friendship or war, or whether or not it's simply a movie that makes me laugh or feel good.  Movies are great for when I need inspiration to go do something, or reminders of the important things in life.  Unbroken is one such movie that is a therapeutic experience.  It is expertly crafted and superbly shot.  Cinematographer Roger Deakins utilizes natural light in some truly stunning ways, and the shot design that Angelina Jolie employs in a lot of the action scenes had me thinking that she should make an action movie, her direction was that clear and concise.  It's PG-13, so it's a little bit more tame than a lot of similar movies.  Now that doesn't mean it is not rough, but a lot of the worst stuff is more implied, making this a great film for families of high school kids and above.  Simply put, Unbroken is one of those movies that I just think everyone has to see, because if you walk away from it and haven't been moved, then there might be something seriously wrong with you.


  1. Excellent review! I read the book, which moved me to tears, and which I decided was one of the best historical pieces I've ever read... leaving me unsure of whether or not a movie could even begin to do justice to the subject. Now I can't WAIT to see it!

  2. Great review. Thank you for sharing this. I will have to make sure to see the movie.