Unbroken – 2014
Director Angelia Jolie
Starring Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Miyavi, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock
Screenplay Joel and Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, William Nicholson based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand
The first thing readers of the book based on the remarkable life of Louis Zamperini need to prepare for is that there is no way this movie, vast as it is, can match the sheer volume of trials, tribulation, chaos and courage seen in that work. I spent a month going through it as a labor of gratitude. I am grateful not just for Louie (O’Connell), but those who served, suffered, fell and triumphed with him. One cannot expect for every scene to show up on the screen exactly as imagined while reading. It’s hard to expect a lot of it to make it to the screen. Ultimately, it’s important that the character of the heroes survive, and the vision of their battle is accurately portrayed.
I do not know all that much about Angelia Jolie, even though her face has been everywhere in the media since about 20 years ago. Her work has been uneven, in my experience, and I never have gone out of my way to see her films. Until now. I am unsure the motive behind her wish to direct Unbroken. There really is a lot to be inspired by, in Zamperini’s story, so I kind of just left it at that. What results in her effort to present the story to the rest of us is a solid work that gives room for the viewer to develop their thoughts and impressions about the characters represented while tapping into the main vine of the hero’s journey through two separate hells towards a lifetime of faith.
Starting out, we see Louie’s team in a typically challenging mission aboard a B-24 Liberator bomber. The early Boeing effort, also known as the flying coffin, provided enough challenges on their own to have cost the lives of thousands in training. While working on a plan for survival, we are treated to the first of not as many flashbacks as I had expected covering Louie’s early life. We see his migration to town miscreant, to the start of his running career, at the behest of his older brother Peter on to his appearance in the 1936 Olympics.
Coming back to his present, the team survives the mission, due mainly to the efforts of a remarkable pilot named Phil Phillips (Gleeson in a stoic muse). They spend some time at their Hawaii base. Before they can get comfortable, they are back out on a rescue mission with a plane used for spare parts, amounting to an engine, and not much more. The rescue mission becomes a crash in which there are 3 survivors, Mac (Whittrock), Phil and Louis.
Where it goes from here, I will leave the non-reading viewer to discover. Many of the events are reduced to fewer key events. Even if they lose a bit of the resonance they have the book, there is still enough there to give an accurate enough portrayal. Roger Deakins cinematography is masterful per usual, and Jolie takes full advantage of his golden skill.
O’Connell is solid. He has the straightforward earnestness of one who was part of a generation that knew the value of being free. That said, he also showed the wandering eye and wry smile that most of us would have when opportunity arose. This film succeeds in no small part due to his ability to show the heart required of one so challenged by circumstance.
Gleeson is an unexpected surprise as Phillips. I had pictured someone who’d have grown up closer to Pawnee than Dublin. Gleeson occupies the character completely however, skillfully navigating the waters of stoicism towards a believably unflappable and somewhat droll figure. No doubt the average viewer would hope that Phillips would be available to fly their plane in a tight spot.
The character that suffers most from the cuts has to be The Bird (Miyavi). His lunacy occupies at the last half of the book, and there are any number of scenes that stand out for me to this day. They get a few of those memorable events, especially the one seen on a lot of the posters. There is plenty of nuance, however that just did not fit into the final version of the screenplay. And it’s a shame. The results of the soldiers’ entrapment and subhuman treatment is shown as wel as one could expect in the span of 2+ hours. What we miss would be nice to have, but it really deserves two films to cover the events properly.
Anyone who feels a twinge of love for those who gave so much to the survival of our country should give this story its proper respects. See the movie first, then read the book. Then feel the gracious pride pour from your heart. I am thankful for Louie Zamperini and his kind.
(**** out of *****)