By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Unbroken is a sweeping World War II epic that chronicles the inspirational, credulity-defying ordeal of Louie Zamperini, an Olympian champion turned war hero whose circumstances remain dire, to say the least, for an unfathomably long time.

 

(2½ stars out of 4)

(2½ stars out of 4)

 

Rowdy youth Zamperini, played by British newcomer Jack O’Connell, is an athlete who races in the 1936 Olympics, then becomes a US Air Force bombardier whose B-24 is shot down over the Pacific during a search-and-rescue mission.

He drifts on a life raft along with two other surviving members (Domhnall Gleeson and Finn Wittrock) of the eleven-man crew for 47 days when he is rescued by the enemy and sent to several Japanese prisoner-of-war camps, where he encounters a sadistic officer -– Matsuhiro Watanabe (played by pop star Miyavi), nicknamed “The Bird” — and then must endure suffering and survive torture and near-starvation that continues for two years and eventuates into post-traumatic stress syndrome.

Angelina Jolie takes to the director’s chair for a second time (2011’s impressive In the Land of Blood and Honey was the first) and delivers what is unmistakably a labor-of-love tribute to a deserving recipient.

But we exit wishing the film had worked us up to a higher emotional plane.

The flashback-punctuated screenplay by Joel and Ethan Cohen, Richard LaGravenese, and William Nicholson, based on Unbroken: A World War II Story of Revival, Resilience and Redemption, the 2010 best-seller by Laura Hillenbrand, explores well-intentioned themes of courage and resolve with a Job-like protagonist who doesn’t give up no matter what’s thrown at him, but is perhaps portrayed as a mite too superheroic for full credibility.

That is, we wish we got into his skin a bit more insightfully.

But the script is too often platitudinous, as in the advice of Louie’s older brother. “A moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory” is one of his repeated pronouncements, as is “If you can take it, you can make it.”  A bit too on-the-nose for comfort, no?

Still, the triumph-of-the-human-spirit element of the screenplay certainly registers, if somewhat repetitively and so relentlessly that it gives the film a one-dimensional quality that robs Zamperini of his three-dimensional humanity and undercuts the emotional climax.

However, Jolie’s treatment of the violence and graphic brutality is well-judged for its PG-13 rating, and her handling of the large-scale set pieces is so adept that we tend to shelve our objections –- at least until the full narrative plays out.

So we’ll survive 2½ stars out of 4Unbroken is unvarying but, like its protagonist, undeniably unconquerable.

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