Angelina Jolie's second directorial effort is based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand which detailed the trials and tribulations of Louis Zamperini, an American soldier who endured detainment in a series of Japanese POW camps after surviving 47 days adrift at sea as a result of a plane crash in the Pacific Ocean.
Many people seem rather dismissive of Angelina Jolie, maybe it is because of her marriage to Brad Pitt or because she has a filmography that can be described as 'not great'. However, her move into directing films that have waded into complex and controversial issues deserves some acknowledgement. For example, The Land of Blood and Honey (which I haven't actually seen because it never got a UK release - not a good sign) attempts to give women a voice in war. The critical reception was decidedly mixed, but to make a film on a first outing about a complex and controversial war is a brave move by Jolie.
Jolie's next effort is once again set during a time of war, it's a decent effort but it is a film that is very conventional in its depiction of a POW camp in Japan. References to films such as The Bridge over the River Kwai are quite clear (though the actors in David Lean's film were considerably well fed compared to those in Unbroken). Another film that this reminded me of was the British effort The Railway Man which was a superior film as it examined post war events and reconciliation.
Jolie certainly creates a film that on occasions is quite powerful but, on occasions, it feels conventional and heavily handed (particularly when it deals with religious aspects of the story)and whilst the central character, Louis Zamperini, isn't the deepest it would be wrong to say he doesn't cut an engaging and sympathetic figure. His determination and resilience is quite inspiring and Jack O'Connell's (a rising star to cherish) performance is a magnificent one as he brilliantly anchors the film by displaying Zamperini's immense strength and sheer force of will.
There are some set pieces are worthy of praise as both Jolie and cinematographer Roger Deakins (whose work is outstanding yet again) do an excellent job at making film's opening dogfight gripping, and the plane crash itself (with the sea looming menacingly for miles and miles) is equally intense as the dogfight. Yet the film feels slightly episodic, the flashback scenes where Louis is a young child are engaging and the scenes where the crashed pilots survive out at sea effectively illuminate the daunting situation they find themselves in.
However, it's when Louis becomes a POW the movie loses its way a little and becomes a conventional Pacific POW film (admittedly it still makes for brutal viewing) and the film's Christ like metaphors become heavy handed. However, Unbroken still a film that has something within itself to be a moving and powerful experience.