Seeing through the cracks of Unbroken

by Kristina Aiad-Toss

From the phenomenal and inspirational true story of one all-American man, comes the film adaptation Unbroken, which scales down this great story into one that is merely decent. This film attempts to tell the life story of Olympian runner and WWII soldier, Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), who is captured by the Japanese after a near-fatal plane in the Pacific and struggles to survive throughout the war.

From the lack of a timeline to the monotonous silence in the second half of the movie, Unbroken takes exciting and extraordinary source material and transforms it into mediocre storytelling that lacks the intensity that it should possess. Louis Zamperini’s story of survival was robbed of all feeling and emotion in this screen portrayal. With repetitive, and even unnecessary, scenes and dialogue, the film is painfully slow and does not engage the audience’s interest. For instance, the scene where Zamperini and two of his fellow crewmates are stranded in the Pacific for 47 days drags on forever.

Directed by
Angelina Jolie
Jack O’Connell, Takamasa Ishihara, Domhnall Gleeson
Release Date
25 December 2014
Kristina’s Grade: C-

With this monotony considered, Unbroken appears to be flat and two-dimensional. With much of the film focused on the negative aspects of Louis’ life, it spends agonizing amounts of time on them, only barely touching on his childhood, family, self-realizations and transformations at the ending. The prolonged scenes of suffering cause the movie to be longer than necessary and steal time away from the moments that should have been included. The result of this decision produces a predictable, boring plotline, as the audience simply waits for the war to end without suspense. Amidst the half-hour of Louis being stranded at sea and the hour of Louis at prison camps, only two moments remain that evoked any emotion and interest in this film: Zamperini as a small child and the real footage of him from the Olympics at the end. By focusing only on the excruciating details and realism, Unbroken loses the emotional and self-transformative part of Louis Zamperini’s story, which is the reason why it is so inspirational in the first place.

In addition to the lack of intensity, the dialogue was almost non-existent with long breaks of silence furthering the lagging plot. The script correctly portrays the violence and suffering to the audience, but that is all they really receive. It does not address the effect that his horrible experiences have in his later life. Attempting to combine a man’s extremely brutal prisoner of war experience with a spiritual awakening, all while maintaining a violent theme, does not translate well to the big screen. By trying to incorporate all of these themes, the film becomes unbalanced between violence and emotion, causing the lines about spirituality to appear choppy and out of place. These few, but important lines are ultimately lost behind the overbearing backdrop of cruelty that makes up the majority of the screen time.

Apart from Jack O’Connell, who portrayed his character to the best of his abilities with a lacking script and poor directing, the rest of the cast is a very unconvincing crew of young actors incapable of portraying any depth of pain and suffering. When other characters had lines, they were simply delivered to the audience with no effort to really divulge into their characters. For example, Takamasa Ishihara was a poor choice for The Bird, where his character should have been portrayed as brutal and cruel, but instead appeared weak and unintimidating.

Also lacking from this film is character emotional appeal and development. Louis has little lines and shows even less emotions. With the fragments of his backstory the audience has, the absence of moments of self-realization makes it even more difficult for the audience to become attached or relate to him. Failing to give him a transformation or gain of wisdom throughout the movie, his character’s only ability is being a punching bag. Instead of including aspects like his family back home or how he reconciled after the war, most of the screenplay focuses on only his struggles. The viewers also never really get to know any of the other prisoners who have little to no backgrounds, motivations, or growth, aside from the odd lines allotted to them. As a result, the attempts to show character development appear to be forced and unnatural.

As a whole, Unbroken showcases the newfound acting talent of Jack O’Connell in a mediocre film that ultimately tries too hard to be inspiring, but never fully becomes the extraordinary epic that Louis Zamperini’s story merits. Overall, the movie fails to capture the emotional intensity and depth that the real-life story possesses, and all that remains is an emotionless, historical textbook account of the story with a documentary-like feel.