I don’t know about you, but I sure don’t envy Louie Zamperini, but I wish I was like him…
The unbelievable and inspiring true story of Louie Zamperini is one for the ages. Who was this man, you ask? He was from an Italian immigrant family who came over to our beloved U.S.A. He was an Olympic athlete who ran in the Berlin Olympics in the 1940’s. He was a man who helped bomb an important Japanese factory which was a huge victory for the United States during WWII. He was stranded on a life boat for 47 full days after his plane was shot down. And finally, he endured unimaginable suffering from the Japanese prisoner of war camp after being “rescued” from his raft. All these areas combined make Dos Equis’ white bearded “most interesting man in the world” seem very anticlimactic. The one area that seems to bring all these remarkable endeavors together is quite simply the area of endurance.
That is not to undermine what this man did. In fact, it only shows us how much more magnificent his triumph truly was. Endurance and perseverance was an area (according to the movie) that was brought about by his brother’s advice to him while training in his running. He was told “if I can take it, I can make it,” and he seemed to bind that like concrete around his heart. When he was starving and dying of thirst, he wouldn’t give up. When he was being beaten mercilessly by the cruel commander Watanabe (played brilliantly by the eccentric Japanese musician Miyavi), he wouldn’t lose his dignity. That is not to say he did not suffer or stumble, he too was human as we are. There were moments that he would want to fight back, when he would want to let go, but he turned from those moments and learned from them. Rather than decide to live with a grudge and with vengeance, he chooses the path of forgiveness instead. It is as if Louie had 1 Peter 2:21ff in mind which reminds us to remain pure and innocent during times of persecution, just like the perfect example that Jesus demonstrated.
That does not mean that the film itself holds the same invincible standard. For one, the language scattered throughout (while not half as bad as your typical war flick) can be quite bothersome. The worst being 3 S words and 1 usage of G-D***, which is unfortunate. Along with that is a brief scene of male nudity (a prisoner of war scene, not sexual in any manner), as well as a brief moment where young Louie looks up from under a bench to see under a girls dress (not seen, just implied). Lastly, there is the matter of war-time brutality. There is no getting around this one; it is hard and brutal to watch. Yet, it is also necessary to see just how great this man’s triumph truly was, plus Jolie tries to move the camera at the worst of moments to make it milder.
Along with the negativity in content comes some production issues as well. For starters, the first third/fourth of the film felt a bit on the awkward side. Jolie was showing her immaturity in film directing when it came to the pacing and editing in that particular time frame. The flash back scenes featured some underdeveloped characters, inexperienced acting, and forced sentiment that made those moments feel a bit Hallmark-y. Along with these issues were some unavoidable conflicts with readers of the best-selling novel. I for one have not read it, but my family members (specifically my mother) was frustrated with numerous unnecessary parts in the film. If one could be changed, I was told it would be to show more of Zamperini’s good deeds, and not just his endurance. He was an incredible example of endurance for sure, but the man did many small and large great things for the men around him that went mostly unnoticed in the film.
Alas, this is a movie review. And since that is the case, we must look at it as is (especially since I am ignorant towards a large portion of the book). Jolie does manage to give quite an incredible film in the last 2/3rds of Unbroken. That is largely due to three great strengths. The first strength is from the truly astounding cinematography by Roger Deakins. He even received an Academy Award nomination because of his beautiful and captivating images on the screen. The second is thanks to one of the finest performances of the year by the breakout actor Jack O’Connell. The British star brings raw and mesmerizing strength and emotion, which shows great justice to an amazing historical figure. The last is that she is able to show (however limited it may be) Zamperini’s conversion to God in times of hardship. We see him turn to God for strength, and the credits inform us that his faith made him stronger through it all!
Thanks to Angelina Jolie’s vision and Jack O’Connell’s top notch performance, we are able to see the strength of a great man. Unbroken is one of the finest and most inspiring films of 2014 thanks to the example of Louis Zamperini. We are able to see his almost endless struggles and persecutions, and still show love, sacrifice, and dignity through it all. He taught us that we can have terrible circumstances attempt to bring us down, but with God and endurance, we can pick ourselves back up again.