Louis Zamperini led one hell of an epic life — teenage Italian-American immigrant hellion, a star Olympic runner in 1936, a WWII survivor of a labor camp – and director Angelina Jolie wants to make sure that we know how he suffered. And suffered. And suffered. The polished, beautifully-made Unbroken is all aglow with gorgeous Roger Deakins cinematography, handsome production values, a screenplay based on Laura Hillbrand’s fantastic, best-selling Zamperini biography and labored upon by scenarists William Nicholson, Richard LaGravanese and the Coen brothers, and the best intentions.
As a movie experience, though, for all its gripping, inspirational punch, it, oddly, keeps disconnecting emotionally. The movie should be a launching pad for the well-cast, witty, excellent Jack O’Connell as a scrappy, resourceful kid who, as a 26-year-old B-24 bomber pilot, crash lands into the blue Pacific and, with two of his buddies, must survive on a raft for 47 days with limited rations and virtually no hope of rescue. Picked up and transported to a POW camp, Zamperini becomes the homoerotic fantasy and favorite pin-cushion of “The Bird,” the camp’s psychotic and sadistic chief officer (Miyavi, a pop star in Japan).
Look, if you’ve seen Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence or the more recent The Railway Man, you already have the triumph-of-the-human-spirit thing down pat. But under Jolie’s direction, the movie too often becomes The Bridge On The River Kwai for sadism junkies as it dwells on our hero getting subjected, in close-up, to one astonishingly cruel punishment after another. Seriously, if Jolie and Mel Gibson ever decide to collaborate on a film project, head for the hills. Although the self-made hero Zamperini deserves every bit of the respect the movie shows him, Unbroken could have done much less noble idolatry and much more edge and insight. **½