By David Williams (New York)
This is a piece of Christian witnessing. If you want to be inspired by an individual who found his inner strength, this is not the movie for that message. Instead, it is a tale of a desperate man who made a deal with God in order to save himself at sea. The weakness of his mind ruins any message about rugged individualism.
We see Louis Zamperini as a victim, a broken man with a broken mind. In the movie, he is neither a leader nor a truly defiant man. The lifting-the-beam scene is clearly done for cinematic effect and contradicts the rest of the portrayal of Zamperini as powerless. Scene after scene shows him crying, moaning, giving up, lying down and refusing to fight back.
Actually, the film does catch one of the major dilemmas of modern life: are we to stand up and face our difficulties or should we lie down and let God handle it? As we quietly divide into doers and dreamers in society, this movie walks the dividing line. It shows Zamperini as someone who could “take it,” as he often repeats. The movie offers comfort to those who feel like perpetual victims. The message seems to be that the glory is in the suffering.
Like a cheap film where you learn at the end that the story was all a dream, audiences at Unbroken see the whole tale of rugged individualism taken back and learn they were watching a sermon. Zamperini’s raft mate lays it all out: when we die, an angel sits by our bed and explains everything, answering all of our “dumb” questions. Zamperini, as depicted in the movie, takes blow after blow, showing little defiance or even stamina, asking no questions that are either dumb or smart.
Actor Jack O’Connell gives us a portrayal of compliance, not defiance, of a weak mind, not a strong heart. His wooden stare dominates the film, and his crumpled, muscle-less body flops like a marionette with severed strings.
Angelina Jolie’s directing debut wallows in scenes of vomiting, bleeding, feces and festering sores, as if the director wanted to make us ill so she could restore us like a faith healer. In one outrageous scene, hundreds of prisoners march through a tunnel to what they know will be certain death. They clearly have the numbers to overpower the measly number of guards that walk beside them, but they do nothing. Jolie asks us to celebrate their willingness to die instead of fight.
To be sure, the director had to stick to the actual events, but it is not clear whether the prisoners’ squandered opportunities to fight back were a true story or simply bad direction. Didn’t anyone in editing suggest that showing one hundred men taking no action against a single prison guard was not inspiring to watch as they marched to their deaths?
This is a new genre. Whereas we have action films, we now have an inaction film. Lie down and take it. Let God handle it. Bear your cross. And then the most galling message of all: forgive. Let it go. The brutal, inhumane commander of the prison camp was just an abused child dominated by a stern father. It’s okay.
Only a white, rich movie star who has lived a life of ease and elegance could have directed this film. Jolie’s lack of understanding of pain, brutality, courage and defiance comes through every frame.