Unbroken not Quite Whole

Ryan Lansing, Staff Writter

The new film Unbroken, based on a true story as compiled by author Laura Hillenbrand in her novel of the same name, commemorates the life of Louis “Louie” Zamperini, a World War II POW [Prisoner of War] and 1936 Olympic athlete who passed away July 2, 2014.

Unbroken is directed by Angelina Jolie.  Her only previous directing gig was for In a Land of Blood and Honey, a romantic drama set during the Bosnian War. Perhaps this is why Unbroken is a solid film, as the experience with the war genre appears to have helped Jolie manage the broad scope of the story.

British Jack O’Connell takes on the role of an Italian-American with excellent subtlety, especially considering it is his first major feature film. Previously, O’Connell was most famous for his role as Cook in the UK television series Skins.

A poor Italian immigrant living in southern California, Zamperini fights to become a world class runner.

During the war, in an air battle over the Pacific, Zamperini’s bomber is brought down. He survives for 47 days on a life raft with 3 other soldiers (one of whom died on the 33rd day) before being taken prisoner by Japanese forces.

While the plane crash scene is compelling, the movie skims through what I think is one of the most interesting parts of his life, his experience in the Berlin Olympics.

According to Hillenbrand’s text, after his 1500m race Zamperini was actually pulled aside by Adolf Hitler, and congratulated on his impressive finishing kick. Later, Zamperini climbed up a flagpole to steal one of the Hitler’s personal Nazi flags before leaving the Olympic village.  Unfortunately, neither of these experiences make it into the film.

Failing to include such unique events does not do justice to Zamerini’s character.

The main antagonist, a Japanese prison guard nicknamed “The Bird”, is a fascinating character, and all the horrific things that he does in the film are based on his real life behavior. Zamperini endures being forced to renounce American ideals over Japanese radio in addition to the overwhelming physical abuse.

I personally would have prefered to see a movie about just his experience in the Olympics, as Zamperini had grown up in the time of the Great Depression and there are many detailed accounts of him being amazed at the wealth of the Olympics. Unfortunately, most of the movie is spent building up needless emotional tension when it should have been detailing the full scope of this courageous man’s life.