Angelina Jolie has done a remarkable job directing Unbroken, a fascinating true story about a man who took arms against a sea of troubles, suffering through the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, by surviving a near-fatal plane crash that left him floating in the Pacific Ocean for 47 days… only to be rescued by the Japanese navy, who sent him to a POW camp.
There are Super Heroes, and then there are Heroes. The discerning difference of course is that Super Heroes possess Super Powers; they can fly like Superman, dodge bullets like Neo, run as fast as The Flash, withstand enormous amounts of pain like Wolverine, demonstrate the strength of Hercules, or use fire like the Human Torch.
Well, Zamperini did fly, over the Pacific Ocean, where he dodged bullets that burst through his steel bomber planes enclosure. He did run, likened to a tornado, in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Enormous amounts of pain? Take your pick: whether it be stranded for weeks at sea on war-torn, shark infested waters, or sent from one prison camp, to another, to another, where he underwent particularly heinous treatment, such as being beaten for hours without reason. His feats of strength were tested when he raised a wooden beam over his head while a soldier watched, waiting to punish him when he failed. If he failed. Finally, he carried the Olympic Torch, alive with a warmth in his heart to match. Louis Zamperini – mankind’s very own real-life Super Hero.
The QLD premiere was hosted at Warner Brothers Movie World on the Gold Coast, neighbouring a few of the sites in which it was filmed. Screening took place in the 4D Roxy Theatre, usually home to thousands of families screeching as simulated snot is released from the ceiling, or hoards of spiders flit about their legs: though Unbroken did not need such effects in order to feel transported into enemy territory. Special mention is awarded to Roger Deakins, the cinematographer, and the sound crew, for strapping the audience into their seats and hoisting us up in the air from the very first scene, gazing at the expanse below, ever-watchful for enemy threats. (Both Deakins and the sound mixing and editing crews on the film were announced as Oscar nominees earlier this morning.)
Takamasa Ishihara plays Watanabe, a cruel, malignant, prison guard, whose war crimes of prison abuse are astounding to witness. His clean and graceful appearance is not to be underestimated. Ishihara is dislikable almost immediately, to the point where you almost collapse each time you see him look over at his own personal nemesis, Louis Zamperini, played by Jack O’Connell in a brave and unyielding performance. He is, without doubt, an inspiration: for all the darkness human nature can be reduced to – Zamperini battled on. It is imbibed with the same resilience against persecution as displayed by Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke (1967), and the exhaustive pains of war as seen in Masaki Kobayashi’s The Human Condition trilogy (1959 – 1961); most would find it hard to survive the 10 hours it takes to watch, let alone a day in a real POW camp.
Laura Hillenbrand, author of Seabiscuit: An American Legend, wrote the bestseller that The Coen Brothers adapted for Unbroken, though very little signs of a Coen-esque script can be seen here. With Fargo, they inspired a Japanese woman to go mad in search of a treasure that never existed. With No Country For Old Men, they inspired serial killers everywhere with the confidence that you don’t need a cool haircut to be a cool character. But I don’t think the Coen Brothers are quite as adept at inspiring in compassionate situations; there were a few scenes that felt well-worn and old hat. (An exchange of dialogue between two brothers when they were children that would ultimately become the credo which Zamperini refers to for the rest of his life, or an entire encampment of soldiers ceasing work to watch in silence as they mutter ‘Come on’ under their breath, come to mind.)
A lot of attention has been placed on Angelina Jolie being the director for this film. When I mentioned Unbroken to people in the past few months, they would have a lingering quizzical look on their faces, until you say, the one that Angelina Jolie is directing, and then they immediately recognize it. She did a remarkable job. This is a directorial effort (her second, following 2011’s In The Land of Blood And Honey) to be proud of, whether man or woman, unknown or A-list celebrity, married to Brad Pitt or not.
Unbroken is a true story that has to be seen to be believed. Any chapter of this man’s life could have been made into a film. All of them together made an epic. So in the flattering term beset by Wayne Campbell of Wayne’s World: Angelina Jolie, we salute you.
Unbroken is now playing in cinemas across Australia.