Posts Tagged ‘‘saps’

Unbroken, review: ‘saps the spirit’

December 1st, 2014

The book of the same name, by Laura Hillenbrand, was never not going to be adapted. The author wrote Seabiscuit, which became one of 2003’s Best Picture contenders, and her research into Zamperini’s legitimately remarkable life story looks tailor-made for a saga of American pluck and survival. What’s puzzling, though, is how a big-hitting quartet of screenwriters, including Gladiator’s William Nicholson, Behind the Candelabra’s Richard LaGravenese, and even the Coen brothers, have wrestled with the material and collectively produced a take on it this limp.

Jolie’s a fascinating actress, a fascinating star, and now a film director on whom the jury is out, with worried-face. You can detect her interest in the violence men inflict on each other bodily in war – there are next to no female characters, and for much of the film, O’Connell is stripped bare, gaunt and suffering.

When he’s forced to hoist a plank aloft all day by the POW commandant (Takamasa Ishihara, better known by day as the singer-songwriter Miyavi), Jolie’s pushing the imagery of Christian martyrdom close to breaking point. Beat for beat, the interactions between these two men follow the sadomasochistic rubric of something like Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, but in a feeble, faxed-in way – when Ishihara garbles the line “You are like me”, it sounds so cardboardy it’s a wonder he doesn’t topple right over.

Jack O’Connell’s smashing trajectory as a star also hits some bumps here, for reasons not wholly his fault. He’s at his best at sea, in the middle stretches when Louie and two fellow crew-members from his shot-down bomber (Domhnall Gleeson, Finn Wittrock) drift 2,000 miles on a leaking life-raft, dodging shark attacks and Japanese strafing runs. The logic of survival here is more practical, the you-can-do-it rhetoric unspoken, and more reliably compelling.

But when Louie’s self-belief is the only subject on screen, which is gormlessly often, Jolie presses her young lead into a lot of face-pulling, anguished grimaces and screams of violent elation. We’re not dragged deeply into either a man’s soul or his character.

Besides, the last part of Hillenbrand’s book – about Louie’s obsession with inflicting a bloody revenge on his tormentor – is wholly beyond the film’s remit. This more troubling layer to his story is sliced off, ruthlessly cauterised. To make a purely consoling myth out of his life, Louie must simply believe, triumph and survive, as inspirationally as possible, and with no inner contradictions to spike the brew. Jolie has made a 137-minute long film that gets us barely further than a poster, and O’Connell is the poster-boy.

Unbroken is released on Christmas Day in the US, and on Boxing Day in the UK


World War Two

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