Unbroken (2014)

(On Cable TV, April 2016) There must be a temptation among certain filmmakers, tasked in presenting an arduous odyssey on-screen, to want to make viewers suffer as much as their protagonists did. At least that’s the conclusion I come to after making it to the end of Unbroken, an extraordinary tale of survival stretched over an equally extraordinary 140 minutes. Philip Zimbardo’s story is, indeed amazing: The son of a poor Italian immigrant, he made it to the 1936 Berlin Olympics, only to be shot down above the Pacific during World War II, survive weeks on a small raft, held in a Japanese POW camp … and live until 97. This is dramatic, compelling material: but why does it feel so dull on-screen? Part of it has to do with Unbroken’s self-important ponderousness: nearly every moment of the film screams “Academy Award contender!”, leaving little to breathe if it’s not supporting the character’s terrible story of survival. The tepid pacing, with numerous endless flashbacks, doesn’t help. Neither does, frankly, the outdated depiction of the Japanese as purely evil. Some elements fare better: Jack O’Connell is credible in the lead role, and some of the cinematography is impressive. There is a good movie waiting to emerge from the result, but it would have taken a few merciless cuts to the script and a willingness to abandon the prestige-film mould. You can understand why Angelina Jolie would be attracted to the project as a director: on paper, Unbroken feels like a front-line contender for the award season—alas, the result is a bit too mouldy to impress beyond its good-natured appeal as a true story.

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