Going into the theater with limited knowledge on the subject of the film, you might expect the typical World War II movie here, full of camaraderie between soldiers and intense dogfights fought overseas. If those are the types of war films you enjoy, don’t expect that from “Unbroken.” Instead, “Unbroken” is a film that highlights the struggles of Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), a former Olympic runner, and goes through his journey as a soldier, plane wreck survivor and prisoner of war. Grim and even overly cruel and harsh, those elements are what actually make the movie potentially refreshing to see, since it’s departing from the “war buddy” genre. However, the potential of an amazing story to see on the screen is diminished by some of the stylistic choices, particularly the pacing and editing.
The movie starts off with Zamperini as a bombardier over Nauru in the Pacific, but it is so slow-paced and uneventful that at times, you forget there’s a war going on and instead you’re just witnessing a bumpy plane ride. After that, the first act is mostly exposition told through flashbacks, which are randomly placed and at times even jarring, but there’s nothing really attention-catching until the beginning of the second act, which is around the hour mark. Or at least it felt like an hour — the pacing of the first part is so slow, it feels like the set-up of Zamperini’s story is drug out. The fact that he was a troubled kid-turned-Olympic runner is a cool little tidbit, but it’s not vital information.
That slow pacing works for the rest of the film as it really drags out Zamperini’s hardships as he goes through gut-wrenching scenarios and makes the audience empathetic to his struggle. However, seeing one man suffer isn’t enough to carry an entire film, although there are some truly heart-breaking moments as he is psychologically and physically tortured in several labor camps. Most films that try to tell an inspirational tale have a payoff that feels satisfying, but in “Unbroken” it feels very forced and disingenuous. There was plenty of material to make the climax and resolution great, but it just falls flat.
That’s the main issue with the film. The plot is fantastic. It really is a great story of one man overcoming many ordeals in his life and ending on a triumphant note, but although the material for a great story is there, it doesn’t mean it’s told in a great way. Although director Angelina Jolie (I know, pretty unexpected, right?) does her best to set “Unbroken” apart from most movies, to the average moviegoer it would look the same. The visuals and cinematography add a unique style and flair, which works well in “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Argo,” and is even the same style as “American Sniper.” The film lacks identity and there’s nothing, besides content, that would really set it apart.
“Unbroken” is a film mostly setting up Zamperini’s struggle and not giving much of a payoff, which is disappointing. Zamperini suffers and faces hardship after hardship, but the moment of triumph doesn’t feel great and the resolution is told at the end credits rather than shown, so it creates a disheartening ending. “Unbroken” had so much potential, but its average execution results in it being another forgettable movie.
Rating: 3 stars