I didn’t read Laura Hillenbrand’s bestseller about the incredible life of Olympian and war hero Louis “Louie” Zamperini, who, along with two other crewmen, survived in a raft for 47 days after a near-fatal plane crash in WWII — only to be caught by the Japanese Navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp. But I read about the story and was inspired by Zamperini’s bravery and heroism, and I could easily see why Angelina Jolie wanted to direct the film adaptation.
And so it pains me to say that while I admire Jolie tremendously and give her kudos for tackling such a wide canvas in only her second directorial effort, her “Unbroken” left me “Unmoved.”
The cinematography is beautiful, the score perfect, the acting first rate. And the opening scenes are riveting as Zamperini and his crew are in the midst of an air attack. The problem is how closely and literally Jolie approached the material as a whole. A wise editor once told me when I was writing a novel, “Don’t let your research show.” Jolie let her research – or rather Hillenbrand’s research – show. Instead of crafting a dramatic story, she went by the numbers, meticulously detailing every day Zamperini was in that life raft, every day he was in the Japanese prison camp, every blow to his body. The beats are repeated over and over in what turns out to be a bleak, relentless and oddly unemotional two-and-a-half hours. I didn’t feel anything and I expected to. We see nothing of Zamperini’s life after the war is over; we only get a brief postscript explaining that he married his sweetheart (what sweetheart – none ever materialized), found God and forgave his captors.
Clearly, he was a great man. I’m just sorry I didn’t get to know him better in this film.