And so, the “based on a true story” trend continues. I don’t have a problem with this trend as such as there are plenty of amazing stories to be told from history. But when every film, every trailer and every poster use the phrase “true story” as its main selling point, then the phrase begins to lose meaning.
But I digress.
Now Showing this week is Unbroken, the second feature film to be direct by Angelina Jolie. Following the crash of his WWII bomber plane, American-Italian Olympic runner Louie Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), along with his two surviving crew members, was left stranded in a life raft in the middle of the ocean. They survived out there for some 45 days before being rescued by a Japanese navy vessel and taken to an even worse environment: a POW camp. Zamperini’s Olympian status draws the attention of the camp’s warden Sergeant Mutsuhiro Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara), whose patriotism is matched only by his creative brutality. With the camp heavily guarded and the prisoners utterly defenseless, the only option Zamperini has to beat his captors is see it through the war intact; “unbroken” if you will.
…I see what they did there.
I feel it should go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that when I take an issue with the narrative or characterisation of a “true story” film that doesn’t mean I don’t respect the hardships of the real person. I don’t know how much of a creative license was allowed for the film, but if Unbroken is anything to go by then the real Louie Zamperini must have been one heck of a strong willed individual. Lord knows I and many others would have cracked under the torturous conditions set upon him. That aspect of his story makes Unbroken a very compelling tale in its own right, but it isn’t enough to make it a brilliant film.
My biggest issue is the lack of characterisation outside of Zamperini himself. The film jumps chronologically between his survival story and his past as an Olympic athlete, giving context to the images and mottoes that he uses to push on through the slog of tyranny raining down upon him. Jack O’Connell throws himself into the role, and really sells the physical and emotional toll his journey puts on him. The guy’s got talent. But there was very little characterisation for the other characters in the film, especially for the film’s villain.
The ruthless Watanabe is very intimidating, don’t get me wrong, but he has pretty much no context to his behaviours outside of “you are all enemies of Japan!” He’s a psychopath for the sake of him being a psychopath rather than there being any reasoning behind some of his stranger actions. Perhaps no one really knows the motivations behind the real Watanabe, but that would be a great thing for the film to use a creative license to explore, to try and understand why this man was the way he was and perhaps give the audience a stronger adrenaline rush at the idea of defeating him.
While I expected this film to be a hit in awards season, but the only Oscars it is nominated for are in cinematography, sound mixing and sound editing. While I can’t think of anything standing out regarding the sound in the film, I must say the cinematography was great, particularly during the sections stranded at sea. Showing the vastness of the open ocean, but quickly creating claustrophobia in the shark infested waters was awesome to watch and was actually my favourite part of the film. If there was an award for “most realistic shark behaviour I’ve seen in a film in a while” then I would give it to this film.
Unbroken was a decent film in the end. Not a brilliant one as it lacked characterisation of its supporting players, and also used the “true story movie ends in text describing rest of life” cliche; which normally isn’t too much of a bad thing, but Unbroken dragged it out for a long time! With so many Oscars films to see at the moment, it shouldn’t be high on your list. But not one to scoff at if the session timing is right.
See you next time!