‘Unbroken’ is a riveting adaptation of a great book, about an amazing man

Miyavi and Jack O'Connell in "Unbroken"
Miyavi and Jack O’Connell in “Unbroken”

Louis Zamperini was an ordinary man, born to Italian immigrants.  He was an ordinary man whose sheer determination and unbreakable spirt made him an extraordinary one.  Unbroken is a film adaptation of the best-selling book Unbreakable:  A World War II Story of Revival, Resilience and Redemption.

Directed by Angelina Jolie, with four Oscar-nominated screenwriters collaborating on the script, and starring Jack O’Connell as “Louie”, the film isn’t a retelling of his entire life, but instead is focused mostly on his service during WWII.  It does go back in a nonlinear format to provide exposition on the experiences that made him into the amazing man he was.

Jack O'Connell, Domnhall Gleeson and Finn Wittrock in "Unbroken"
Jack O’Connell, Domnhall Gleeson and Finn Wittrock in “Unbroken”

We first see a young Louie growing up in Torrance.  He is an aimless youth until his brother Pete (D’Leo as the younger Pete, Alex Russell as the older Pete) gets him involved in running track.  He became a star athlete at Torrance High School and set a record for the mile run of 4:21.2 in 1934 (Note:  that record stood for nearly two decades).  In 1936 he was a member of the U. S. Olympic team that competed in Berlin.  While he “only” finished 8th in the 5,000 meters, he ran a record final lap of 56 seconds.

Louis Zamperini enlisted in 1941 and became a bombardier on a B-24 Liberator.  Known as the “Flying Coffin” by many who served aboard them, B-24s had design flaws that made it much more likely to be damaged in combat.  He and a full crew were flying a mission in a patchwork plane when it was forced to ditch in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  Only Zamperini and two others, Russell “Phil” Phillips (Gleeson) and Francis “Mac” McNamara (Wittrock) survived and managed to get into a raft.  After 47 days, Zamperini and Phil were taken prisoner by a Japanese warship and Zamperini wound up in POW camp near Tokyo.

Miyavi as Corporal Watanabe surveying the prisoners in "Unbroken"
Miyavi as Corporal Watanabe surveying the prisoners in “Unbroken”

Corporal Mutsohiro Watanabe (Miyavi) is the camp’s commander and he takes a special interest in Zamperini because of his having been an Olympian.  Known as the “Bird”, Watanabe beats and tries to break Zamperini.  He becomes especially cruel after Zamperini refuses to make an anti-American radio broadcast.  The film ends with a touching slide-show, telling what happened to Zamperini and the other key figures in his amazing story.

All of the actors are excellent and considering this is Miyavi’s feature-film debut, he was outstanding.  He brought the brutality of WWII Japanese POW camps alive.  Jack O’Connell is an ideal choice to portray the ordinary/extraordinary Louis Zamperini.

Ms Jolie is a superb actress, very much deserving of her Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Girl Interrupted.  Had this not been only her third time in the director’s chair for a feature film, I think the film could have been improved more than just a little.  The pacing is very uneven and a few of the timeline transitions are less than ideally done.  Some of the sequences are overpowered by the score, as the music is used to create emotions that the images are more than capable of doing on their own.  However, all in all, this is a film worthy of your attention.

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