dir Angelina Jolie
scr Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, William Nicholson
prd Matthew Baer, Angelina Jolie, Erwin Stoff, Clayton Townsend
with Jack O'Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Miyavi, Jai Courtney, Garrett Hedlund, Luke Treadaway, Finn Wittrock, Alex Russell, CJ Valleroy, Maddalena Ischiale, Vincenzo Amato, John Magaro
release US 25.Dec.14, UK 26.Dec.14
14/Australia Universal 2h17
The commandant's pet: O'Connell and Miyavi

gleeson courtney hedlund
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Unbroken This true story was considered unfilmable because no one would believe it, until Laura Hildebrand wrote her exhaustively researched book. Directed by Angelina Jolie and written by a quartet of award-winning screenwriters, the film is remarkably stark and unsentimental, a riveting portrait of a man with an unusually resilient spirit.

Growing up in 1920s California with Italian-immigrant parents (Ischiale and Amato), Louie Zamperini (Valleroy, then O'Connell) was on the verge of going off the rails. His brother Pete (Russell) helped channel his energy into running, and he ran a record-breaking lap at the Berlin 1936 Olympics before joining the military. As a bombardier during the war, his plane crashed into the Pacific, leading to a 47-day survival ordeal with two crewmates (Gleeson and Wittrock) before being captured by the Japanese and brutally interned. But he refused to let his cruel captor (Miyavi) break him.

Roger Deakins' striking cinematography captures the contrast between the story's various episodes, which makes the feel somewhat choppy, shifting from one important sequence to the next while building an unnervingly subtle sense of momentum. Jolie unblinkingly portrays each challenge as something that pushes Louie to the brink as an athlete, soldier, survivor and prisoner, so the film's emotional kick comes in the cumulative effect, thankfully conveying Louie's inspiring steeliness without the usual "I am Spartacus" cliche.

O'Connell throws himself into the role with startling physicality, shifting from muscled runner to emaciated castaway to wiry detainee, but the fire in his eyes never wavers. There are moments when it's clear that he is wondering if he can survive even one more horror, and yet he never snaps. It's to O'Connell's credit that the character remains engaging even if he's rather too heroic. The only standout in the supporting cast is Miyavi as the vicious commandant trying to prove his worth through sheer thuggery. The actors playing Louie's family, colleagues and fellow inmates are solid even if their roles are never developed.

Jolie directs all of this with a remarkable stillness, never over-egging emotion with sweeping movie manipulation (Alexandre Desplat's score is relatively restrained). Within its episodic structure, the film is edited with subtle touches that weave together the moments in Louie's life into a bigger picture about tenacity, finding humanity and earthy humour along the way. These things help Jolie and O'Connell portray this astoundingly heroic man as someone any of us could aspire to be.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 6.Dec.14

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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall