By Maria Katafigioti (Athens, Greece)
I saw Angelina Jolie’s second film as a director, Unbroken, based on the biography of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner, whose incredible life took him from a troublemaking childhood to amazing athletic success to heroic and resourceful actions as a pilot during WWII, to a 47-day survival of a plane crash adrift to sea through Japanese internment camps, post-war battles with PTSD and alcoholism, and ultimately, a deeply personal redemption through a religious conversion.
Each chapter in his life could indeed very well have been a book in itself and indeed, Zamperini also authored his own memoirs, “The Devil at My Heels”, which give a more personal account of these events, very much worth reading. In any case, the story was great and inspiring, and the movie could and should have been a great one, as well, but instead was merely very good. Why? Because Jolie chose to leave the entire third part of the book, the entire part documenting Zamperini’s post war struggle with his inner demons and his religious epiphany, what came to define him and the remaining 60ish years of his life. Thus, as a review put it, the movie was all agony, and no redemption. This choice takes away from the movie and from Zamperini’s life story. Further, it does no credit to the American veterans and the terrible sufferings many of them have endured after returning from war, by minimizing this internal pain.
Jack O’Connell, who plays the lead, is excellent and takes the monumental task of transforming himself physically as well as adopting to the emotional demands of the script flawlessly (P.S. Mr. O’Connell is British, and in addition to having to relive the suffering of his character, he was also forced to talk like a Yankee, of which he did a convincing job). But the opportunity to transform into a different person and challenge himself even further in this amazing role is taken from him, for Louis, the man and the character, does not struggle internally before any of the external challenges he faces. He somehow always finds the strength to continue. It is only after, when he is left with himself, that he starts to break down. His greatest enemy is not the Bird (another fine performance, by a Japanese rock star, of all people) but his own self and the psychological trauma from his experiences.
Anyway, that was quite disappointing. Also, I thought the movie could have been made a lot more personal by showing what motivated various characters in greater depth. We never quite get inside the head of Louis and his companions, we never know what gives them the strength to continue, what causes some to fight while others give up, nor do we see why some take the extraordinary actions of small rebellions, often at great personal risk, and at times at a heavy price.
Still, the cinematography was magnificent, and even the small characters were fantastic. What Jolie did choose to show was quite powerful, and at times, difficult to watch.