Unbroken - Cinema Review

'Jolie manages to surround O'Connell's central performance only with blank assistants who you feel are perhaps meant to have import and impact but rarely have either'

It is probably now fair to say that Angelina Jolie's directing career has perhaps not got off to the easiest of starts. Fairly little-seen Bosnian/Serbian language film In The Land Of Blood And Honey did not light up the arthouses as perhaps was expected and now arrives Unbroken, an apparently awards-eager Biopic which it seems possible may not be nominated for any major awards. If there is a plan, and these film choices appear to indicate there is, then it does rather appear that it is not being followed in quite the exactitude required, at least by audiences.

The problem with this particular release, which unfortunately does not mark out Jolie as a director to watch, is simply one of character and emotion. Unbroken struggles with the former, which in turn means it is incalculably lacking in the latter. All of the things you would expect to see in a Second World War Drama are here without any of the craft which made things like Band Of Brothers, The Thin Red Line and Saving Private Ryan stand out.

With her focus on protagonist Louis Zamperini (Jack O'Connell), Jolie manages to surround him only with blank assistants who you feel are perhaps meant to have import and impact but rarely have either. Domhnall Gleeson is very good here but his apparently important character disappears from the narrative at the hour mark only to show up again in the end-of-film informational intertitles. Did he really feature enough to justify that and, if he was so important, why wasn't he worked in to the film to feature more prominently? Adhering strictly to the facts of the story is a noble undertaking but not if they don't fit the narrative you are trying to create and not if you don't give some thought to letting your audience know that characters, present or absent, matter to us. Zamperini, meanwhile, is shown not giving Gleeson's character a second thought. Note that that's not 'barely' or 'callously' or 'so that he can distance himself'. He simply is never mentioned again.

That lesson, and one before it where another apparently significant character disappears having barely made a murmur is repeated more often the longer the film goes on. Antagonist 'The Bird' (Takamasa Ishihara) is clearly meant to have some sort of 'special' relationship with Zemperini but Jolie again fails to draw it out. Gleeson's second half replacement, Garrett Hedlund, gets an incredibly low number of lines, none of them to do with himself. Who is he and why should we care about him? Core character creation questions, unanswered.

The script (surprisingly featuring a credit for The Coen Brothers) can take some of the blame but you can't get away from the fact that Jolie's creative and storytelling decisions shoulder a lot of this film's problems. The golden glow of glorious Forties and Fifties War Drama's envelops this but it also blunts it, leading to a safe PG-13 view of war that doesn't fill the emotional gaps that such an approach leaves with character, action or resonance.

Unbroken is release in UK cinemas on Friday 26th December 2014.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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