Whatever Angelina Jolie does from her health decisions to her humanitarian actions to her acting to traveling with her large brood gets noticed. Big time. When the Academy Award winning actress decides to get behind the camera eyebrows and expectations are raised. It is the curse of talent that whatever you do is held to the highest of standards. As a result everything she is involved in has to be twice as good to be judged half as good, if you catch my drift. Such is doubly the case now that she has branched off to directing.
Survival by any means against any foe or under any imaginable condition is the main message behind Louis Zamperini’s life and Angelina Jolie’s film, Unbroken. It was a lesson he learned as a young boy which brought him to the Olympics as a young man and then kept him alive in the face of the unimaginable during World War II.
Louis’ (C.J. Valleroy – first film) life as a young boy was tough being an Italian in a town with very few immigrants. Just when it seemed like he might turn to a life of crime his older brother Pete (John D’Leo – The Wrestler, Wanderlust) recognized that his brother was a natural runner. After some prodding and training Louis (Jack O’Connell – 300: Rise of An Empire, ’71) becomes the best high school American distance runner and even makes the 1936 Olympics in Germany. While he did not medal Louis did leave an impression due to his determined run for such a young man.
His Olympic career is put on hold due to the outbreak and subsequent American involvement in World War II. Louis enlists in the Air Force and trains as a bombadier. While on a rescue mission his plane is shot down over the Pacific Ocean. He and two other soldiers, Phil (Domhnall Gleeson – About Time, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2) and Mac (Finn Wittrock – Noah, Winter’s Tale), survive. They spend nearly seven weeks floating on a couple of rafts. They have to survive the sun, lack of food and water, shark attacks, and an attack by a Japanese fighter.
Only Louis and Phil survive long enough to be rescued. Unfortunately for them they are not rescued by the Allies, but by the Japanese. They are not killed, but separated and then brought to a P.O.W. camp. There Louis has to endure starvation and forced labour plus the brutal treatment of the camp’s leader, Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara – first film). Watanabe, a sadist, seems to have keyed in on Louis’ strength and attempts to beat it from him. Louis refuses to give in. His lifetime motto of “If you can take it, you can make it” is put to the test.
A few years back Jolie starred in a film called “Changeling” directed by Clint Eastwood. Obviously the film and his directorial style left quite an impression on her as she has borrowed upon it for this film. Not only do the two films look similar (cinematographically with its reliance on warmly lit shots), but the pacing is very similar. Like Eastwood, Jolie’s style is straightforward, unrelenting and resolute. It also borrows heavily from the life lead by the man the film is based upon, Louis Zamperini.
What he had to endure on that life raft and in the Japanese P.O.W. camp was brutal and never seemed to have an end. Jolie’s hard-nosed hardnosed directorial style was obviously a conscious choice and the right one. Because she never lets up you feel beaten up and tired watching the film. At a certain point I had tears in my eyes. Not because what was happening was any worse than what happened over the last hour of the film rather because I wanted it to stop. I could not take anymore and yet I continued watching. Buoyed on by the spirit of Louis Zamperini. How could I give up while sitting in a comfortable theatre seat after witnessing what he went through?
I am not saying that this film proves that Jolie is the next Scorsese or even the next Eastwood. Rather it showed to me in its strengths and flaws to be like her acting in that it was very instinctive and without pretence. As for the flaws at times incredibly I desired some deeper feelings. I wanted to know more about Zamperini and what he was feeling and thinking. Very little of that type of thing is revealed. Most of the focus is on his actions. Due to that sometimes his actions, without any of the motivation or feeling behind it explained or delved into, become rather simplistic. It also denies the viewer from getting completely emotionally invested in what was happening on the screen.
Endurance, faith, strength of spirit, courage, the will to fight in any condition, and finally acceptance are all themes or lessons to be gleaned from Unbroken. The human spirit and what it can endure….a lesson we can all learn from the film.