After a near-fatal plane crash in WWII, Olympian Louis Zamperini spends a harrowing 47 days in a raft with two fellow crewmen before he’s caught by the Japanese navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.
‘Unbroken‘ is the true story of Louis Zamperini, a US Olympian who survived 47 days on a raft in shark infested waters after his bomber crashed during WWII, and it charts his experiences during the war as well as his childhood up until he competed in the 5000m at the Munich Olympics. In her second outing in the director’s chair, Angelina Jolie has crafted a film that essentially feels like three stories in one, from the ‘Chariots of Fire‘ style sports film, to a survival tale, and then finally to a more traditional wartime narrative set in a Japanese concentration camp. Along the way, the one constant is Zamperini, played with a quiet intensity and determination by the talented young British actor Jack O’Connell. Anyone who reads my reviews regularly will know how highly I rate Jack O’Connell (see ‘’71‘ and ‘Starred Up‘), and he’s terrific here once again in a role that requires a lot of silent acting and this is well shot by Jolie’s camera, which spends a lot of time lingering on his face throughout the various experiences.
Zamperini comes across as a man of stoic determination and integrity, and his will to not only to survive but to survive with his honour intact is shown in one poignant sequence where he chooses to go back to the concentration camp at the expense of a more comfortable existence. Various characters drop in and out of Zamperini’s story, with three in particular resonating the strongest. The first two are his compatriots who also survived the plane crash (Finn Wittrock and Domhnall Gleeson) and spend time with him floating through the Pacific Ocean before they are discovered by a Japanese ship, and Gleeson in particular delivers a moving and measured performance. The other key character doesn’t fare quite so well, with Japanese singer Miyavi’s performance as a sergeant at a POW camp coming across as a little forced and unnatural – I’m unsure why Jolie chose to cast a non-actor in such an important role and it’s one of the missteps the film makes.
There’s been no shortage of WWII movies over the year, and certainly no shortage of inspirational tales of courage and determination in the face of adversity, and the highest praise I can give to ‘Unbroken‘ is that it does justice to Louis Zamperini’s incredible story. Recommended.
Directed By: Angelina Jolie
Starring: Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Finn Wittrock, Miyavi, Garrett Hedlund, Jai Courtney and Luke Treadaway