Saturday, December 27, 2014

Unbroken Review

The story of Louis Zamperini is an absolutely amazing one. I've been hearing about the movie Unbroken for quite some time as it had awards bait written all over it for a really long time. I love following awards season and there are a few sites out there that I enjoy following that follow all the awards buzz all year round. This is how I was able to hear of Unbroken almost a year ago. Fast forward to August. I drove down to San Diego to visit my brother and before I went home, he downloaded the book Unbroken onto my phone for the ride home and in listening to that I was blown away. That book is such an amazing book. By this time, I believe the trailer had been out already and it looked good, but after reading that book, I realized what all the buzz was about. His story is such an amazing, inspirational, emotional story that will stick with me for a long time. Thus the movie instantly became my most anticipated movie of the year. I was a bit nervous when the rating came out. I'll get to that later. But I was still excited. However, after seeing this movie, I'm sad to report that it falls short. Big time. And I usually hate to be the one who gets all nit-picky with the book-to-movie conversion about it not being exactly the way the book was, but this is more than just nit-picking. There are some major, MAJOR sins that this movie commits that make it so it doesn't do the book justice. At all.

If you haven't read the book or heard of the story, Louis Zamperini was a man who had a pretty messed up childhood, but turned things around when he got into running. He got so good at running that he competed in the Olympics in the late 1930's and was planning to run in the next Olympics. Those got cancelled because of the war. So he enlisted. In war, he became a bombardier for the United States serving on the Japan side of the globe. While doing this, his plane crashed in the ocean and he and a couple others had to survive on a life boat for over a month. After he survived that, his situation was an out of the frying pan and into the fire sort of situation as he was rescued by the wrong side and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war in Japan. And by goodness were the Japanese terrible when it came to their prisoners of war, so he went through quite the ordeal. This aspect is all covered by the movie and they do a decent job. However, that's not what makes this story a unique one. There's thousands if not millions of soldiers in World War II that all went through a huge ordeal and in theory you could make a good movie about most of them. What makes his story a unique one is what happens to him after the war.

Yes, Louis survives. But that's not a spoiler. He lived to tell his story. That story got turned into a book. That book got turned into a movie. Obviously we knew that he was going to survive or else we wouldn't have had a movie. I guess you could argue that a heroic war story could be told through second-hand sources of those who did survive, but Louis Zamperini was also in the news this year as he passed away back in July at the age of 97. I don't know why I spent so much time justifying myself, but the point is this movie is all about the journey, which is the case for most war stories. And this specific journey continued long after the war was over. Louis was a pretty messed up man when he got home as he suffered from PTSD and what makes his story great is how he overcomes all of this. That I'm not going to divulge, but needless to say it's great. And what made this movie frustrating is that it almost completely ignored that aspect of the story. Their whole focus was what happened to him during the war. His early years are told in flashbacks and his later years are told in a few sentences afterwards. I realize that this was already a long movie and in order to do this complete justice, we needed to make a long movie longer. There is a good number of people that check out mentally when a movie goes over two hours, but in this instance, we needed that extra time to finish the story. Because when all is said and done, they only told the first two-thirds of Louis' story. And when the best part of the story is the last third of it, you CAN'T cut that out. If you are so worried about time and don't want to make a three hour movie, then cut down on the war part so you have time to tell the end. This was unforgivable. Just imagine if they adapted your favorite book into a movie, but ended right before the climax. That would be frustrating right? Right.

Now with that huge issue out of the way, it's time to discuss the secondary issues of the movie. I feel the whole movie that was there was holding back. The scenes with him as a bombardier, on the life raft, and in the prisoner of war camps were very brutal and intense. But the movie wasn't that intense. And I hate to jump on a ratings discussion, but I felt that they were holding back so that they could get the more family-friendly PG-13 rating. So instead of showing a lot of intense, brutal scenes, they showed a few scenes like that, but mostly showed us scenes of beating down, tired, suffering soldiers sitting or standing. And when we did get those scenes, it was like hit, hit, punch off screen, punch off screen, brief shot of bloody face, then a quick jump to a later moment where he is perfectly cleaned up. No blood. No bruise. No mark. No scar. It was like the Japanese let them go wash off after they beat them up. It took me out of the movie a bit. Getting into specifics, a lot of really intense things happen when they are on the raft with the sharks. Mostly glanced over. The first place they land is probably the most brutal part because there were no rules for the Japanese to follow. Mostly glanced over. Miyavi wasn't that intense and scary as "The Bird." Disappointing. I know movies like Schindler's List and 12 Years a Slave are brutal and hard to watch because of how intense they are, but those are the movies that stick with you. Unbroken won't stick with you. Thus it's just an average war story. There's a lot of much better war stories told. Lone Survivor, The Railway Man, and Fury are examples from off the top of my head from just this year that are much better.

Was the acting good? Yes. Jack O'Connell was great as Louis. He's a fairly new actor and I'm excited to see where his career is going to go. Domnhall Gleeson was also great as Phil. Domnhall has been in a couple movies recently where I've been very impressed with his performance. An example of that is About Time. And if you don't know him yet, you're about to become very acquainted with him as he has been cast in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Miyavi did do a good job with what he was given. Wasn't his fault that his character wasn't written is sadistic and scary as in real life. Was the movie shot well? Of course it was. Roger Deakins was the cinematographer. And even though some might call him cursed for not winning an Oscar, I take the other route and say you can call him one of the best cinematographers out there based on the fact that he has been nominated 11 times. Everything he does looks perfect. Is this his year he finally wins? Probably not. He'll most likely lose out to Emmanuel Lubezki from Birdman. But oh well. So with all this good stuff, I have to point the finger of blame at Angelina Jolie. She a great actress, but a very inexperienced director. I just wonder what this movie could've been if we had a director in place that was experienced in doing wartime dramas. The Coen brothers helped out with the script. Don't know what went wrong there. They're usually excellent.

Overall, I can't claim that Unbroken is a terrible movie that will make it onto my top ten worst movies of 2014 list. It won't. Because it's not horribly awful. However, I can claim that it is one of the most disappointing movies of the year. I love book and I love Louis Zamperini's story. If done right, this could've been one of my favorite, if not my absolute favorite movie of the year. It could've been this decade's Schindler's List or this year's 12 Years a Slave. But it's not. If you've never read the book, I suppose you might go into this movie and walk out having been entertained. But I beg of you. Go read the book. Or do what I did and listen to the audio book. This is an amazing story that's worth your time. But you won't get the full story by watching this movie. All you'll get is an average wartime drama that held back a lot in order to get the PG-13 rating. And it could've been so much more. My grade for Unbroken is a 6/10.

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