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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Unbroken | Jack O'Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Miyavi, Finn Wittrock | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Unbroken | Jack O'Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Miyavi, Finn Wittrock | Review

The true story of Olympic athlete and WWII Air Force bombardier (later, captured and detained in a Japanese POW camp) Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) as directed and produced by Academy Award winner Angelina Jolie (In the Land of Blood and Honey) unfolds in one, long, arduous ordeal that is exhausting to behold.  Kudos to Zamperini for surviving (he passed away at the age of 97 in July, 2014) and to Jolie for documenting his ordeal with an unflinching lens.  Almost too unflinching.

From his wild, troubled youth as a petty thief, to discovering his talent for running – first from the police and then in USC track, leading to his inclusion in the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, to enlisting as an Army Air Corps bombardier, Zamperini seems to ride a rollercoaster of extraordinary drama, blending elements of astonishing good luck with horrendously bad breaks.

In one of several compelling aerial combat scenes, Zamperini maneuvers around in the plane’s tight bomb bay on a narrow strip of metal. Beneath him is the ocean.  One false move and he’s a goner, but the intrepid Zamperini takes it all in stride, even when the plane malfunctions and he, along with fellow airmen Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) and Mac (Finn Wittrock) are set adrift in a raft for weeks (an astonishing 47 days total, with one casualty).

The men fight off sharks, thirst, hunger, and Japanese bullets as planes fly overhead, but never assist the surviving duo.  When “rescue” finally comes, it is by a Japanese naval vessel, catapulting Zamperini from his watery ordeal to another, much longer one in a POW camp, where he encounters sadistic camp sergeant Mutsuhiro Watanabe (Miyavi) known to the men as “The Bird.”

From this point on, although it would hardly be appropriate, if you were to down a shot of tequila each time Zamperini is abused, punched, beaten, or struck in any way, you would not be conscious by the end of the film. Perhaps you would not be conscious by the end of thirty minutes.

Adapted from Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 biography “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption,” and beautifully shot in Australia by cinematographer Roger Deakins, the cinematic rendition of Zamperini’s wartime experiences almost exclusively focuses on lingering scenes of his suffering.  

Flashbacks summon up his personal slogan, “If you can take it, you can make it,” and Director Jolie is determined that we are shown all that Zamperini can take, to the exclusion of nearly everything else about him.  Reverential, yes, but also one-note.  Surely there is more to Zamperini than his victimization, but other facets of his personality are left largely unexplored, which can leave viewers largely uninvolved.

O’Connell is effective as the steadfast Zamperini, and Miyavi chews up the screen with menacing facial expressions, moving among captive prey and enjoying it.

The four screenwriters include the Coen Brothers, unrecognizable here and playing it safe among platitudes.

POW is a status.  Here, it’s a frequent interjection, followed by an exclamation point. Although Unbroken is worth seeing, if only to honor Zamperini’s memory, it’s the viewer that might want to ask for a break.


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