★★★★ | Unbroken

For the third time in the last couple of months, THEGAYUK reviews another film starring the remarkably talented young British actor JACK O’CONNELL. We can tell you now that Hollywood now agrees with us; Mr O’CONNELL is going to be a MAJOR STAR. Remember you read it here first.

For her third time behind the camera actress/ superstar, UN Special Ambassador, Honorary Dame of the British Empire, and mother of countless children, Angelina Jolie plumped for a rather old-fashioned WW2 drama. With a script from Oscar winners Ethan and Joel Cohen (who rarely write for other directors) adapted from Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling biography, ‘Unbroken’ is the inspiring story of the Italian/American Olympic Athlete Louis Zamperini who became a War Hero.

Jolie starts her overly long movie with an exciting aerial gun battle somewhere in the Far East with Zamperini as the Bombardier helping to get his crew’s partially destroyed plane safely back to base after they have successfully bombed their target.The next time they are flying on a mission, they are not so lucky and end up floating in the middle of the ocean after their plane totally disintegrates.

In a series of flashbacks Jolie fills in Zamperini’s young life up to that point, where as a troubled teenager constantly picked on for being an immigrant in small town California, and so his older brother persuades him to join him in his school’s track team. Zamperini shows such real talent at running that he is soon winning enough races to actually qualify to represent the USA in the 1936 Olympics in Munich. The next Olympics however in 1940 were due to be held in Tokyo, but little did Zamperini know at the time he would end up being in that city then, but for entirely different reasons.

Zamperini and two other men, include Phil the pilot, survive the crash and floating aimlessly on a life raft have to deal with hunger, the relentless heat, dehydration, sharks and the occasional storm for 47 days adrift in the middle of the ocean. Zamperini who never stops praying, vows that if he ever gets home again he will devote his life to God.

He and Phil are the only two survivors who are eventually picked up by the Japanese and held prisoner in the most horrific conditions and forced into hard labour. When they are transferred to a larger camp the two of them get separated and Zamperini gets singled out regularly for unprovoked and merciless beatings by a young sadistic Japanese guard nicknamed ‘The Bird’ who appears to have some fixation with breaking this American soldier who he obviously somehow feels threatened by.

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When the war looks like it is ending, the Japanese retreat taking all the Allied prisoners with them to an even more remote island, and the men fear that they will all be killed before they can rescued. The impending defeat encourages ‘The Bird’ to even increase his brutality of Zamperini to the point where he has the beaten young soldier holding up a heavy railway sleeper over his head which eerily looks like a cross at a crucifixion.

The movie ends with the war and with Zamperoni being hailed as a hero as he finally arrives back home to his family in California. In real life he evidently became a Born Again Christian and tutored by the evangelist Billy Graham, he went back to Japan to spread the Gospel and forgive his captors. He died at the age of 91 years old earlier in 2014.

Just like in the current ‘The Imitation Game’ Ms. Jolie and Roger Deakins her multi Oscar nominated her cinematographer makes her wartime setting a tad too picturesque a la Hollywood (Australia was used for locations). Despite the very detailed graphic scenes of the horrific violence that we expect these days, it was hard not to escape the notion that I expected Clark Gable or Errol Flynn or any other 40’s heartthrob to burst onto the screen at any moment. If I could pinpoint a particular reason why this very entertaining movie was not nearly as good as the hype, it would be the fact that Ms. Jolie allowed the Coen Brothers to spend too much time on the historical facts of Zamperini’s true story than focusing more on the characters that are a vital part of it.

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However there is one element that raises this movie to a much higher level, and it is the presence of its leading man Jack O’Connell. The camera simply loves this exceptionally talented young English actor who, with his matinee idol looks, is proving to be the most exciting new actor that the movies … and now Hollywood… have discovered this year. In ‘Unbroken’ we feel every moment of his pain in this raw and very natural performance that is nothing less than a sheer joy to watch. Having seen him in action three times in as many months (his second movie ’71 is still to be released in the US) I can only keep repeating my earlier claims that O’Connell is deservedly destined for major stardom.

The movie itself may have been a tad disappointing, but O’Connell is anything but that.

About the author: Roger Walker-Dack
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