Movie Review: Angelina Jolie's Sophomore Film is Moving and Captivating But Lacks Originality

A biopic and war drama is one of the biggest challenges for a director.

Angelina Jolie has taken on the story of Louis Zamperini, war hero and created an epic tale in "Unbroken" that is genuinely moving, but at the same time, rather disappointing.

Based on the acclaimed novel by Laura Hillenbrand, the film chronicles the life of Louis Zamperini (Jack O'Connell), an Olympic runner who was taken prisoner by Japanese forces during World War II.

The movie is divided into three portions. The first part of the film takes place on an aircraft as Louis, and his battalion are attacked by Japanese aircrafts. The sequence in the movie is spectacular as Jolie is able to give depth to the aircraft, and it never feels crammed. There is an expansiveness to the environment that allows for spectacular visuals and allows for suspense. When the plane crashes on their home base, Louis and his companions take on another mission in another aircraft.

However, this aircraft crashes in the middle of the ocean and hence the second part of the film begins. Louis and two others, Mac (Finn Wittrock) and Phil (Domhnall Gleeson), are saved and they are left stranded on two rafts. The sequence takes about an hour of the film and shows the travails of a 47-day survival journey that shows the three lose weight, get sunburned and kill animals for food. In particular there is one grotesque image when the three take a seagull by its legs and strangle it. It is unwatchable, but the chaotic nature shows the animalistic and survival instincts of humans.

The third part of the film starts when the Japanese rescue Louie and Phil, and they are brought to detention centers where they are tortured. This sequence is by far the most heart-wrenching and visually stimulating portion of the film. Each sequence is brutal and hard to watch. One of the most intense sequences in particular is when Mutsuhiro Watanabe (Miyavi), the leader of the detention center, makes all the prisoners hit Louis. Jolie chooses to shoot it in close ups, intensifying the pain that Louis is feeling and allowing audiences to essentially relive each moment.

Jack O'Connell is part of the reason the film works as he brings a charismatic persona to the character. At the beginning of the film, he has a comic edge to him and is able to make his fellow crew members feel well. When Mac and Finn are starving on the raft, rather than mourn their unfortunate circumstances, he starts talking about the Gnocchi his mother makes and tells them to imagine the taste of them in their mouths. O'Connell vividly describes his mother's recipe with such detail that it is hard not imagine seeing what he is describing.

When the Japanese capture him and Phil, he tells Phil, "I have some good news and some bad news." While it is evident that both Phil and Louis will be captured, the remark gives lightness to the proceedings. When he is at the detention center, O'Connell's presence changes. He no longer has the same charisma. Instead there is a vulnerability and sadness to his character that is not seen at the beginning of the film. The vulnerability is definitely portrayed through his physicality as he is no longer the gallant and fit soldier. He becomes thinner, and he starts limping. However, O'Connell portrays Louis' strength and willingness to survive with gravitas.

Gleeson gives a soulful performance as Phil. One of the most unique sequences is a moment when he is praying for having survived the plane crash. Louis questions him, but Phil maintains his beliefs. Gleeson is incredibly moving in the sequence and also brings out a weakness that makes audiences feel for him.

Garrett Hedlund portrays John Fitzgerald solidly, but one wishes there was more screen time for this actor. Jai Courtney brings his usual pompous attitude to the role of Hugh Cuppernell. Finn Wittrock is exceptional in the tragic role of Mac. At the beginning of the film it seems as Mac is a strong and capable man, but as he is on the raft, Wittrock transforms into an insecure young man who has a hard time coping with his circumstance.

While the cast is definitely formidable, Miyavi, who portrays Watanabe, feels wrongly cast. His performance does not bring anything new, and it unfortunately feels too much like a caricature. It is evident that he is trying his best, but he falls into the trap of repeatedly making serious faces and yelling to express his emotion. The dialog is also incomprehensible at some moments, and when he steers away from the yelling, his work never captures the pain and the anger of the Japanese people. Instead, it portrays them as villainous captors.

The final moments of the film feel misplaced when Jolie decides to show stock footage of Zamperini running the Olympics in Tokyo and showing his picture at the end as if it were part of an Oscar tribute. Yes, it was courageous and a beautiful thought, but it just seems like it does not belong in this movie.

Overall "Unbroken" is well intentioned and refined picture that will move audiences to tears. It celebrates the human spirit of Louis Zamperini but unfortunately lacks any original or masterful storytelling.