MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by Angelina Jolie. Starring Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson.
Louis Zamperini’s biography is inspirational and life affirming and Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling book does him justice. Born into poverty, Louis developed into a world-class runner, eventually representing the United States in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. While serving his country in World War II, Louis’ bomber was struck down; Louis survived the plane crash by getting into a life raft that was adrift for weeks in the Pacific Ocean and surrounded by sharks. He and his best friend were eventually rescued by the Japanese and then placed in a prisoner of war camp, where there troubles continued unabated.
Director Angelina Jolie begins her film in stirring fashion with an exciting airborne sequence that mixes the sense of mortality with the adrenaline rush of dropping bombs and firing machine guns. The scenes in the lifeboat are also effective and her young cast of soldiers (mostly played by Brits) do a fine job with their roles.
Once the action moves to the Japanese prison camp, Unbroken begins to take the missteps that turn an intriguing premise into a fairly mediocre movie.
The real Louis Zamperini was a regular guy who suffered alongside his fellow soldiers with grace and endurance. Unbroken decides to turn him into a Christ figure who engages in a one-on-one battle of wits with the camp’s Satanic figure, Watanabe (“The Bird”), a sadistic officer who seems to delight in Louis’ torture. These scenes are not particularly well written or convincing. The movie also has a hard time trying to decide how to depict the detention camps and the living conditions, going back and forth between miserable and tolerable.
The final third of the book depicted Louis’ return to civilian life after the war, his struggles with PTSD and alcoholism, and his decision for Christ following a Billy Graham crusade. (Unbroken reduces this material to about 45 seconds of title cards at the end of the movie.) Louis Zamperini’s faith story is really about how God never let go of him through it all; somehow the filmmakers missed the point.
It is easier to turn a second-rate book into a fine film than it is to make a memorable movie from an outstanding book. Unbroken is finally undone by an incredible story that simply cannot be depicted in just two hours of film.
Read the book instead. You’re welcome.
Three halos: A story about surviving against deprivation and nature itself, which could have made a five halo rating if the filmmakers hadn’t sloughed off the story’s stirring conclusion.
Two pitchforks: For some swearing; much torture and PG-13 brutality; one scene of latrine emptying that thankfully doesn’t appear onscreen until after you’ve eaten all of your popcorn.
Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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