It is the very last scene, before the credits come rolling in, that makes this war drama’s outcome a little more believable. The real footage of 80-year-old Louis Zamperini running alive and well through Japan with the Olympic torch ultimately encapsulates the film’s message of forgiveness.
With Unbroken, director Angelina Jolie tells the true story of Louis “Louie” Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), a US track champion and Olympic athlete who, after his plane crashes during World War II, survives 47 days at sea and becomes a Japanese prisoner of war for more than two years.
In the detention camp, Louis’ battle for survival becomes a personal and painful fight against corporal Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe, embodied by Japanese singer-songwriter Miyavi. Watanabe sees in Louis an equally strong character and a threat to his authority, and thus tortures him physically in the most brutal ways. At one point, close to giving in, the fear and sadness in Louis’ eyes are almost tangible. Even before the camera pans away from him to show his oppressor standing in the distance, it is clear from the look on his face who he is afraid of. About to faint, he remembers his brother’s motto: “If you can take it you can make it”, and regains his composure.
Alongside great acting by Domhnall Gleeson as his comrade Phil, and Miyavi as Watanabe, Englishman Jack O’Connell delivers a brilliant performance and establishes himself as an actor who will not be forgotten any time soon.
The film refrains from whitewashing the brutality of the detention camp and carries the viewer from one painful experience in Japanese captivity to the next. It is not only O’Connell’s commitment to the role, but also well-framed shots and fantastic visuals, that lend power to the film. While the first half of the movie portrays the events leading up to the plane crash with flashbacks to Louis’ childhood and athletic achievements, the latter part of the film solely depicts his odyssey during World War II. It seems Jolie wants the viewers themselves to feel the two and a half years Zamperini spent in the camps.
This epic drama of hope, courage and the will to live is a gripping watch, but a long one.
Unbroken is released nationwide on 26th December 2014.
Watch the trailer for Unbroken here: