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article imageReview: ‘Unbroken’ features relentless performances Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Dec 24, 2014 in Entertainment
‘Unbroken’ is based on the inspiring memoirs of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic long-distance athlete who became a prisoner of war during WWII.
Endurance and resilience combined with a dash of stubbornness are characteristics that produce great athletes, but also survivors. The former can rely on some aptitude for the sport, but not many people become memorable without practice and determination. The latter probably requires some degree of luck, but who can say. Unbroken is the tale of a man who was both an Olympic runner and a prisoner of war.
Louis (Jack O'Connell) was a mischievous child, rebelling against the racial inequality he felt as the son of Italian immigrants who moved to California. But his older brother, Pete (Alex Russell), saw something else in the juvenile delinquent: a fast runner. Pete would train Louis as a distance racer, pushing him to do better until eventually he went to the 1936 Summer Olympics in Germany where he placed eighth with an unbelievably fast sprint to the finish. However World War II would get in the way of Louis’ dreams to once again represent his country. A bombardier with the Air Force, he flew several missions until a faulty engine dropped them into the Pacific. After more than a month of floating aimlessly, they are finally rescued by the Japanese and thrown into a POW camp.
The film can be divided into three sections based on the representation of the timeline. The first part focuses on Louis’ childhood, repeatedly disappointing his parents with his misbehaviour and then finding a purpose in track and field. The second section is a combination of his rise to athletic achievement and his time as a soldier before the crash, which is a mix of in-air firefights and male bonding. The last part mainly focuses on his life as a prisoner, during which he redirects all his resolve to remaining strong in the face of an overbearing warden, Mutsushiro Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara).
Louis’ relationship with Watanabe is an odd one. Watanabe resents Louis for his accomplishments before the war and his willpower. There are rumours Watanabe was a rich kid with zero prospects before the war and that his position was bought for him. He attempts to compromise Louis with threats, violence and bribes, and grows angrier with each failure. Conversely, Louis gains the respect of his fellow prisoners and the audience each time he refuses to yield to Watanabe’s control.
The film is less heavy-handed than Angelina Jolie’s previous directorial features, which can likely be attributed in no small part to the adapted screenplay written by Joel and Ethan Coen. She allows the script and performances to speak for themselves, letting viewers draw their own conclusions about Louis’ spirit. O’Connell made an unexpected and resounding impression in last year’s Irish prison film, Starred Up, and here he proves that showing was no fluke. While the film is considered Oscar bait, it’s facing some tough competition to making the short list.
Director: Angelina Jolie
Starring: Jack O'Connell, Takamasa Ishihara and Domhnall Gleeson
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