If I can take it, I can make it: Review of “Unbroken”

unbroken square

Actually, guys, it looks to me like your plane is very much not unbroken.

Rated PG-13, 137 minutes (watched 1/17/15)

“Unbroken” is good, but it could be so much better.

By all standards, Louis Zamperini, the focus of Unbroken, led an incredible life. He was raised in a poor immigrant family, but grew up to be an Olympian who stole Hitlers personal Nazi flag, survived a plane crash in the South Pacific, fought hand-to-hand with sharks (and won) and was a prisoner of war for more than a year. He survived it all unbroken (Hey! That’s the title of the movie!) and later lived his life in peace thanks for to a radical conversion to Christianity. All this shows up in the movie. Why then doesn’t Unbroken blow me away?

Director Angelia Jolie does reasonably good job. It’s all technically correct, but there is no passion or real motivation behind the character of Louis. As played by Jack O’Connell, Zamperini is a blank slate. Part of the blame must fall on script writers Joel and Ethan Coen, which is strange because they are not known for turning out heartless or boring stories (The Hudsucker Proxy, O Brother Where Art Thou, Fargo, True Grit, etc.)

Early in Zamperini’s childhood, his goody two-shoes brother gives him advice when it comes to racist bullies: “If you can take it, you can make it.” This is meant to be an inspirational mantra that sees Zamperini through the war, his time in the life raft, his imprisonment and torture. But it is simply a trite saying; it doesn’t really mean anything. If you can take it, you can make it. If you can make it, you can take it. If you can take it, of course you can make it. It’s like saying “If I can fly, I won’t fall out of the sky.” Duh.

The highlights by far are the scenes of Zamperini and his two fellow airmen adrift at sea. Their 45 days (!) bobbing in two tiny, yellow rafts as they starve and bake alive are terrifying, intimate and gripping. Jolie did right by this part.

But these scenes are long before the half way point, and the bulk of the movie shows Zamperini in Japanese internment camps under the watch and sadistic eye of The Bird (played by Takamasa Ishihara). I have zero doubts in my mind that the torture Zamperini and other POWs endured was a thousand times more intense than what is shown here, and the historical record shows The Bird was indeed a sociopath who had sick grudge against Zamperini. But the way the movie presents itself, The Bird comes across more as a cartoon villain that an actual, real-life monster.

The best thing I can say about the movie is that it is good background for this free featurette. It tells Zamperini’s story after the war, when he was battling alcoholism, PTSD and hatred for his captors. He reluctantly attended a Billy Graham crusade, heard the Gospel, and was set free. You might even say he actually was broken, but was later made whole.

unbroken tix

All that’s wonderful, but what’s the movie’s grade? I’m in a hurry here, buddy.
It was fine, but nowhere near what it should have been: 3/5.

Where do I know that guy from?
Domhnall Gleeson, the actor portaying Zamperini’s pilot, is better known as Harry Potter’s Bill Weasley.

What is the star’s spirit animal?
A shark, of course!

What color socks are you wearing right now?
Black.

Spoiler alert!
Bird is not the word.

Megan’s Take:
She reports she only enjoyed it because it had to do with World War 2, and doesn’t need to see it again. She too was left wanting to know more about his life post-war and enjoyed the Billy Graham featurette more than the movie. 3/5.

Heard any good jokes lately?
What do you call a bear with no teeth?
A gummy bear!

Snacks eaten:
None

Unrelated Word of the Day:
Refluent: adjective \REH-floo-unt\ flowing back

Would the movie have been any better with the addition of Morgan Freeman as narrator?
Nope. But now that you mention it, maybe it could have been narrated by the Zamperini character?

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