Saturday, January 17, 2015

2014 Award Circuit: Unbroken Review

2014 Award Circuit: Unbroken Review

The 2014 Award Circuit will be a collection of reviews of films that are in some kind of award runnings within the months of January through March. Not only will this prepare me for the big night (AKA Oscar Night), but it will also allow me to catch up with some of the critically acclaimed films I missed out on in 2014. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy watching and writing them.
Earlier today I wrote my review of "American Sniper," and it can be said that my reaction really came from reading the book and how poorly I felt it was adapted. Tonight, I watched yet another movie based upon a true story, called "Unbroken." It is also interesting that both movies are directed by two former actors. Clint Eastwood directed "American Sniper," and Angelina Jolie directed "Unbroken." Although it is on my to-read list, I have not read "Unbroken" yet, so perhaps my opinion on this movie might be a little different after I read the book.

I cringed a little bit after I learned that Angelina Jolie directed "Unbroken." Not that I am not a fan of Jolie, she is actually a very capable actress, I just didn't have a lot of hope for her as a director. Her first film in the director's chair was "In The Land of Blood and Honey," an experience I absolutely loathed. I can tell that the only thing that was on Jolie's mind making that movie was awards, and I was afraid she was going to ruin yet another incredible true story again by making a completely awards-centric movie. I was ready to completely write off all the good effort for a movie that was going to feel absolutely without merit.

Boy, was I wrong.

I may not have read the book yet, but I can tell from a cinematic stand-point that "Unbroken" is a elegant piece of filmmaking. It seems like every step that Jolie took in this adventure is in sync with itself. It seems that she embraced the story that she was trying to tell, and the result is something grand at an epic scale. Yes, I still think she had awards on the mind making this movie, but this time it doesn't get in the way of the entire picture. Jolie and the great cast she puts together for this story have created something memorable, something epic and something completely worthwhile.

If you are unfamiliar with the story of Louie Zamperini, its quite the extraordinary adventure. Louie grew up somewhat as a delinquent, but was remedied by his older brother, and he became a very talented runner at a young age. Louie was such a good runner that he participated in the 1936 Olympics. He would then serve our country during World War II as a bombardier, and his plane would crash. He would spend 45 days stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, only to be captured by the Empire of Japan and on an unnamed Japanese island, he would spend the rest of the war as a POW, being tortured by a particularly ruthless warden. How did he survive such an ordeal? By the help of God, and after the war was over, Zamperini devoted his life to him and would eventually give forgiveness to his captors. It's an amazing story, almost surreal in its execution. Its a story that would be very sad if someone messed up. I am happy to say that Jolie did not mess this up. I am shocked how much of a non-impact this had on the world of film criticism.

Jack O'Connell plays Louie Zamperini, a fairly unknown actor from the UK. I may not have heard of this guy before, but I can say that he delivers a mesmerizing performance as Louie Zamperini. O'Connell becomes Zamperini, through and through. But not only does he become Zamperini, he becomes someone in need of a saving grace, but only relies on himself for survival. He becomes man who is constantly being thrown into extraordinary situation after extraordinary situation, and its gripping how believable O'Connell makes his performance. For a seemingly first time actor, O'Connell comes off like a veteran, making good work along the lines with Garrett Hedlund, Domhall Gleason and Jai Courtney, all three of whom do great work here. But its amazing how good O'Connell is in this.

Then there's Miyavi, who plays Mutsushiro Watanabe, the warden of two different prisons that Zamperini finds himself in. What's interesting about their relationship is that Mutsushiro and Zamperini met at the 1936 Olympics, seemingly as friends. Then Zamperini finds out how brutal Mutsushiro is towards "enemies of Japan." Miyavi is a musician in Japan, but he is downright horrifying as Mutsushiro. The way Mutsushiro takes pleasure in torturing Zamperini, the way he is constantly trying to break him, its harrowing work and Miyavi deserves credit for how scary he is as a foil for Zamperini.

The visual effects are outstanding. I was completely engaged by the look of the 1936 Olypics arena, just as much as I was for the ocean landscapes that Zamperini spends time on. Jolie uses a lot more visual effects than she did for her first film, but she uses them wisely. Jolie's strongpoint has always been her use of visuals, and she shows us that she has mastered them this time around. But more than that, she doesn't just make this story feel epic, but she makes it feel relevant and she gives this hero a more than appealing film.


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