Critic’s Corner Columnist
The 2014 film “Unbroken” tells the unbelievably true story of Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) an Olympic runner, who was adrift in the ocean for 47 days and survived being in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in World War II.
The film follows Zamperini from being a delinquent at a young age to becoming an Olympic athlete. He becomes an air force bomber during WWII but his plane crashes in the Pacific Ocean, which leaves him and two of his friends, one of whom dies, adrift on a raft for 47 days until they are caught by the Japanese and become POWs. The film depicts Zamperini’s survival through the unimaginable and the torturous life as a POW in a Japanese work camp during World War II.
The writing throughout the film is decent. There are scenes where the writing brings out what a character is feeling, draws in the audience and helps them to feel the characters’ pain. This is well done when they crash in the ocean. The first thing that is said is Mac naming who died and how they are going to die and Louis telling him not to think about it.
It shows the panic, despair and the realization of their situation while also trying to remain calm and keep the will to live. It’s moments like these that draw the audience into the film and hold their attention. It encourages them to keep watching to see what happens.
However, there are also scenes where the writing falls short and pulls the audience out of the scene because it is cliché and comes off as weird and something someone wouldn’t say.
The scene when Louis’ older brother is trying to get him to run starts out OK but his brother says out of nowhere “If you can take it, you can make it,” which is a great line but it’s not said or put in the right place in the dialogue. It gives off the feeling that the film is trying too hard to be inspirational but only ends up coming off as lame and takes attention away from the film.
The acting at the beginning of the film is very much hit-and-miss. Some reactions come off well, like when Louis and his team lose the brakes on the plane and crash on the island — their reactions look real. You can see on their faces that they are nervous and tense, trying to land a plane without brakes.
Yet the same actors give little to no emotion in the opening scene of the film when they are on a bombing mission. There is no energy or tension, which you would expect from someone who is being shot at and having other planes fall into the ocean around them. This makes the beginning of the film have low energy and come off as mediocre.
However, the acting improves in the latter half of the film. The actors’ reactions are more natural and seem much more real. Louis is beaten while he is in the POW camps and so are those around him. When someone else is being beaten with Louis witnessing it, O’Connell portrays how much this affects him as he flinches every time the man is struck.
How much the beatings affect the other prisoners is also shown on their faces in different ways, some more subtle, others more openly. This helps make each of the prisoners their own person and stand out in their own way even though they are a group of sorts, which can be hard to do yet was done really well.
The audience can also hear the pain in Louis’ voice when he speaks to his family over the radio and it is shown how much he misses them on his face.
The film stays very true to what Louis actually went through. He was very much a problem child when he was younger and had issues with getting into fights with bullies. He was also known to be resilient and defiant, as is shown throughout the film, with him refusing to die and trying not to break under the torture he endured when he was a prisoner of war.
The head of the camp, whom the prisoners called the bird, beat Louis frequently and his behavior was erratic, as is shown in multiple scenes.
The film, unlike many movies based on true stories, sticks to truth and what actually happened, and goes as far as to include details of Louis’ experiences. The efforts the filmmakers made to stick as close to the truth and real people as possible can be seen throughout the movie.
However, one of the downfalls of this film is that it tries to put too much into one film. You have Louis’ delinquent years leading to his transformation into an Olympic track runner; you have the time he spent drifting with his friend on a raft for 47 days; and you have his years as a POW. This is enough of a story for two films, not including his struggles after the end of the war with PTSD and alcoholism.
Trying to have all of this in one film caused it to be pulled in too many directions, which doesn’t help it. It takes more from the film than it adds and the film would have been better if it was split into two films.
“Unbroken” starts out rough with low energy, blandness and a need for more intensity, but it builds from there into a film with more feeling and intensity. There are multiple areas that need work, yet it still does well in telling the incredible story of Louis Zamperini. Despite the low energy, it is still a film worth watching once and remembering.