Unbroken the movie – the story of Louie Zamperini based on the book by Laura Hildebrand (Seabiscut) – has all the right ingredients. However, despite all of the resources available Angelina Jolie’s 2nd directorial effort while competent and hitting all its production marks – feels too measured, distant and ultimately uninspiring. It should be noted, the book biography Unbroken is a remarkable piece of work. It was engrossing to the point that I read it in one day at home. Hildebrand effectively tells four remarkable stories where frankness, honesty, grit, perseverance and ultimately humanity jump off the pages.
The easy out would be that no movie can be anywhere as good as the book when it comes to Biopics. Well… let’s think about that hypothesis. Hmm… Lawrence of Arabia, Schindler’s List, The Pianist, Ghandi, Papillion, The Hurricane, and Raging Bull quickly come to mind.
Frankly the result that is Unbroken the movie is a bit surprising. The talent lineup (see notes) for major aspects of the behind the camera work would challenge the Murderer’s Row teams of the 1918 or 1927 NY Yankees. Their work in this movie cannot be called out for being weak or even subpar. In fact on their own the product is good, but somehow they do not seem compelling when combined.
Also, Jack O’Donnell (as Zamperini), Domhnall Gleeson (as Phil) and Takamasa Ishihara (as Watanabe) are good in their roles, but something does not allow them to connect emotionally.
The bottom-line is that Unbroken misses on a couple of fronts. Aspects of Zamperini’s life are treated in a bland, stiff, almost obligatory anecdotal fashion or missed completely, and in the end it does not feel personal or passionate.
Screenplay: Ethan and Joel Cohen (Fargo, Blood Simple, No Country for Old Men), Richard LaGravense (The Fisher King, Little Princess, The Horse Whisperer) and William Nicholson (Gladiator, Les Miserables). These guys are heavy hitters, but what is revealing is that three different writing styles were required and attributed to the film – that means bad news in Hollywood. And if you are expecting some line of dialog that the Cohen’s always produce – it is not in this film.
Music: Andre Desplat (6 AAN for Philomena, Argo, The Kings Speech, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Queen). My favorite of his recent work is the score for Zero Dark Thirty. How was that not nominated? I listen to “Seals Take Off” almost every day. I was not humming the music theme one moment afterward and the End Title’s song by Coldplay seems remarkably out of place – no matter how much you like Chris Brown – of which I do.
Cinematography: Roger Deakins (11 AAN for Shawshank Redemption. Fargo, Kundun, Oh’ Brother Where Art Thou, The Man Who Wasn’t There, No Country for Old Men, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, The Reader, True Grit, Skyfall, Prisoners). Wait a minute! How was Deakins not nominated for Mountains of the Moon or Courage Under Fire???? Deakins work here does not feel as deep, dark or grande as normal.
Editing: William Goldenberg (AA Argo) and Tim Sqyres (AAN Life of Pie).