Unbroken - Blu-ray Review

'Whilst Jolie has clearly made the conscious choice to concentrate on Zamperini's early life, with particular focus on his wartime experiences, this ultimately leaves Unbroken feeling like half a story'.

In the opening moments of Unbroken, director Angelina Jolie makes the bold decision to tell her audience that the film is "a true story". Not based on one, not inspired by one, but true. It's a choice which gallantly sets out Jolie's intentions in relating the experiences of Louis Zamperini (Jack O'Connell) during World War II; intentions which the director ultimately fails to fulfil more often than she succeeds.

Unbroken may have Zamperini's life story at its core, but Jolie's execution simply fails to make it resonate with truth. That's not to say that what we are shown didn't happen, but that the fantastical lens through which the director chooses to relate much of her film's narrative restricts the authenticity and believability of the story being told. Jolie too often transforms Zamperini into a near-mythological figure, feeling almost Christlike at times, making it all the more difficult to relate to both the man himself and his arduous journey through the war.

Perhaps more frustrating than the way Jolie relates the events within Unbroken are the parts that she chooses to omit almost entirely. We are given snapshots of Zamperini's childhood and adolescent achievements as a long distance runner, which led to him competing at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, but this period of his life is never explored in adequate detail. Given even shorter shrift via intertitles, real life photos and brief stock footage at the end of the film is Zamperini's life after World War II, which could make a fascinating film in their own right. Whilst Jolie has clearly made the conscious choice to concentrate on Zamperini's early life, with particular focus on his wartime experiences, this ultimately leaves Unbroken feeling like half a story. There is little payoff for witnessing everything Zamperini goes through, simply because Jolie chooses not to show us how they affected her subject for over half a century after the war ended.

As a piece of cinema, Unbroken feels very similar to Spielberg's War Horse, with Zamperini in place of the earlier film's equine protagonist. This is meant with no disrespect to the real man, who clearly deserves as much respect as anyone who fought for their country and suffered the manifold horrors of war. Jolie's film replicates many of the successes and failures seen in War Horse: occasional poignance and vitality in putting conflict and pain on the big screen (the opening dogfight sequence is particularly strong); but more often than not moving Zamperini episodically from one set of circumstances to the next, failing to develop most of the characters surrounding him beyond the most basic.

Jolie's relative inexperience as a director also shows up in several ways, most prominently in her narrative decision to utilise flashbacks that adds nothing, makes the film more difficult to follow, and is dropped unceremoniously after the opening act. The script fails to make up for this, too often feeling flat and littered with platitudinous soundbites rather than authentic dialogue. Whilst Zamperini's story is certainly worth telling, with the ingredients to make an effective and engaging cinematic experience, Unbroken must be seen as ultimately failing to achieve this.

Unbroken is released on UK Blu-ray, DVD and digital download on Monday 4th May 2015.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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