Unbroken opens with an incredible sequence inside the belly of a World War II bombing aircraft. Young soldiers, including Louis, inside the bomber are shooting and getting shot at almost randomly. The plane seems made of cheap tin. It brilliantly showcases the claustrophobia, the randomness of violence and survival by sheer luck for young kids stuck in this outsized conflict. It is brilliantly filmed and establishes Angelina Jolie’s directional style as an excellent, if unemotional, observer. The opening sequence is in the same league as Spielberg’s Omaha beach landing from the opening of Saving Private Ryan, one of the greatest movie moments of all time. Could the Coen brothers’ screenplay have something to do with it? (And that came as a complete surprise, BTW, the movie has none of their dark humor, only detached darkness.)
And then it gets bad for young Louis Zamperini and his companions before getting worse, much much worse. Louis Zamperini, a wonderful portrayal by Jack O’Connell , is an accidental athlete, but a damned good one and the movie would like you to believe, even a great one, which he was not. He ends up in the great war as a bombardier, survives a plane crash and sails a record 47-days in a raft in the Pacific and then in what seems like an enactment of the ‘from frying pan into the fire’ gets scooped up by the Japenese, who were very different then. Unfortunately, the villain is perhaps the biggest flaw in the film. Takamasa Ishihara is less fearful than annoying in his contrived portrayal of a sadist. Shows how difficult even seemingly textbook roles actually are.
The film continues its basic take on episodes of deteriorating humanity in a cold, detached manner. A lot of close-ups, a lot of claustrophobia and a lot of violence. It is hard to believe anyone can survive - unbroken - as in one-piece - after that much violence. But Zamperini lived to tell the tale. One cannot help but wonder.
If the purpose behind the story is to make us question the price of our independence then it succeeds. We feel we got it for free. Someone else paid for it, and dearly. And those people, the ‘Greatest Generation’ endured a lot so that we can blog, tweet and essentially - bitch - about our little problems in our little lives, mostly detached from any real larger issue.
However, the yet larger lesson may be from what happened after Louis comes back to America. He learns to make peace with the horrors of his past. He forgives his captors and even visits them in Japan. He runs in the Tokyo Olympics in 1980 as a torch bearer. The great lesson here is that there is really no point in pondering over the past. The only way out is forward.