Starring: Jack O'Connell, Domnhal Gleeson, Garret Hedlund, Miyavi and Jai Courtney. Written by Joel Coen, William Nicholson, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, directed by Angeline Jolie 137 minutes long.
Hollywood, as a single entity doesn't get enough credit sometimes. And I would like to take this opportunity to thank it for creating its latest tradition, a new genre for Christmas that of a single human (so far it's been men, but maybe next year it'll be a woman) being beaten and ritually humilitated, tortured and tormented to the point of death, while never losing his integrity and humanity. Last year they kindly gave us 12 Years a Slave and this year they give us, Unbroken – the true life story of Louis Zamperini the son of Italian immigrants who turned his back on teenage delinquency to run for America in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He went on to fly as a bombardier for the US Air Force before crashing in the ocean and being cast adrift for 45 days, then getting rescued and captured by the Japanese and then finally relentlessly tortured for the remainder of the war by a psychotic prison camp commander and the entire Japanese army. Perhaps the ultimate good news/bad news story.
And boy does this man suffer at the hands of fellow man, it seems that he was put on this Earth to suffer pain and agony at the hands of others and when he's not being kicked, punched, whipped, beaten, thrashed, strapped or bludgeoned he's being attacked by Mother Nature herself in the guise of appalling storms, unrelenting sun stroke, shark attacks and in fact anything that can get its digits on him!
From a truly thrilling and terrifying opening scene on board a claustrophobic B24 Liberator where the crew suffer the horror of watching their bomber turned into a colander all around them at 25, 000 ft, Angeline Jolie takes the decision of yanking us out of that present and into the past of Louis's young life as a delinquent as he steals and drinks booze, before a whistle stop tour of his life through running before we're back up to speed in the present, then it's a thrilling plane crash, those 45 days adrift in the ocean followed by 100 minutes spent in the company of living skeletons and brutal Japanese guards as Louis is captured by the enemy and becomes a POW of the Japanese. And that's where any momentum is ritually and slowly brutalised to death, leaving behind a slow trawl through the physical tortures of this poor man's young life.
All the time we're supposed to root for Louis because he refuses to be broken, surviving whatever life throws at him. The trouble is that by the 70th minute mark you finally give up caring, just when you think it can't get any worse it does and you frankly give up. You sort of go numb and so by the time of Louis's final heroic act of heroism in the face of the enemy comes round you're so shell-shocked yourself, you sort of go just let the whole thing wash over you, untouched. Then it's a quick trip back to the good old US of A and a freeze frame of Louis and his family hugging and a series of captions explaining what happened to all the principle characters after the war. Finally, to cap it all, there's a scene of the remarkable 80 year old Louis running the torch for the Olympic flame through the streets of Tokyo before we discover he died this year. And you're pulling on your coat and racing off before the credits have even started.
And that's it.
Harrowing, for sure. Well acted, of course. Good direction? Not bad from Jolie. Good film? Not sure if I'm honest, I have no desire to see it again, that's for sure. But it is far more accessible than 12 years a Slave but it's frankly far too grim and bleak to be considered an uplifting film. And is it Oscar worthy, well, not so since those dreadful email leaks tarnished Jolie's career.
Overall this isn't a terrible film or even a bad one, it's very earnest and forthright but it lacks a heart or perhaps it lacks a proper structure to hang the story on. Either way, it's lacking something.