Who could have foreseen that Angelina Jolie, once American cinema’s most radioactive element, would prove as respectable and traditional a helmer as ever safely brought in an epic? Her sophomore feature adapts Lauren Hillenbrand’s account of Louis Zamperini (played in the film by Jack O’Connell), an Olympic runner turned U.S. Air Force bombardier who survived 47 days at sea after crash-landing in the Pacific, followed by nearly three years in Japanese POW camps.
One hates to resort to the cliché of “too many cooks,” but how else to describe the state of affairs when writers Richard LaGravenese, William Nicholson, and the Coen Brothers collectively deliver a screenplay rich in lines like “A moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory”? Did Barton Fink write that?
Unbroken feels divided too neatly into chapters, with Alexandre Desplat’s score underlining each emotion. And for exhibiting more interest in on-screen torture than anything since The Passion of the Christ (and with more crucifixion imagery), Jolie’s film is surprisingly bloodless and remote.
O’Connell does his best with a role characterized by silent endurance, but lacks the dynamism he brought to Starred Up. The major assists come from DP Roger Deakins, whose camera makes the wintry harshness and maritime terrors immediate, and Japanese pop star Miyavi, bringing purring sadism and genuine complexity to the role of the prison commandant nicknamed “the Bird.” A moment from either of them is worth two hours of pallid nobility.