Review: Unbroken

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

During World War II, a former Olympic track star by the name of Louis “Louis” Zamperini is shot down with his crew over the Pacific Ocean on a search and rescue mission. Along with two other survivors, he finds himself stranded at sea. Waiting for rescue, he is ultimately brought to shore only to be placed in a POW camp. This is a true story of one man’s survival, and it sure is one hell of a powerful one.

There is no question that Angelina Jolie had very respectable intentions with her latest directorial effort. UNBROKEN is an incredible tale, one that seems much too farfetched to be believed. This story of survival is one that is so utterly inspirational, it is difficult not to be a least a little taken in. Jolie also has some very impressive cred to back it up with such names as Joel and Ethan Coen attached to the script (along with Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson) as well as the genius of Roger Deakins as cinematographer. While this seems like the pedigree that would make for an instant classic, it is not quite the cinematic experience it could have been. It is however one that may bring a sense of hope and heart to your life when you leave the theatre.

During World War II, former Olympic track star Louis “Louie” Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) finds that he must face the most challenging experience imaginable. After being shot down while searching for a lost aircraft and crew over the Pacific Ocean, he and only two other survivors, Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips (Domhnall Gleeson) and Francis “Mac” McNamara (Finn Wittrock), somehow endure on a life raft. Lost in the middle of the ocean for 47 days, they found sustenance on rain water, all the while battling the elements, shark attacks, and even being shot at by a Japanese bomber. In fact, this horrendous experience could have been an entire movie in itself.

Unfortunately for Louie, when he is finally rescued from the unforgiving ocean, he is captured by the Japanese Navy. As this dreadful nightmare continued, he is placed in a POW camp where he is beaten and physically tormented by the vindictive Mutsushiro Watanabe, aka “The Bird” (Takamasa Ishihara). While held captive, he meets a number of other Americans, including John Fitzgerald (Garett Hedlund). This survival story is one that is beyond belief. Watanabe’s strange and frightening fascination with the American track star is oftentimes terrifying. His brutal assaults on him seem to be deep-rooted in envy or a sick and misplaced admiration. The constant abuse can get a little uncomfortable and repetitive, thus making for a difficult watch.

Jack O’Connell in the starring role gives one hell of a performance. Director Jolie had a keen eye for a young leading man to bring Louis to life, and O’Connell was a perfect choice. He is funny, compassionate, and fueled by a necessary need to survive. It is an impressive performance for the UK born actor, who ably handles an Italian-American accent extremely well. Also considerably commanding is Ishihara as the volatile Watanabe. The Japanese singer-songwriter known as Miyavi gives The Bird a sinister, yet somehow pitiful, realization. Both actors are quite good together and create a strangely captivating on-screen chemistry.

With an adventure at sea, and the uncompromising struggle to survive the POW camp, UNBROKEN tends to feel a bit long. The opening sequence is exquisitely shot, and then we flash back to what led to Zamperini’s survival, and then back to the horrors he faced. At times, this just over two hour film seems to drag. It doesn’t help that the attacks on him from Watanabe seem to be a bit repetitive. We get the idea very early on that their relationship is a vicious cycle. The most exciting sequences come from the 47 days stranded at sea. It is a perfect balance of hope and fear and fatigue from the dire circumstances they find themselves in.

UNBROKEN is absolutely inspirational. It also drags a bit too long, and the villainous ‘Bird’ and his fascination with Zamperini tends to feel recycled throughout. Still, Jolie has crafted a story of survival that is beautifully shot thanks to Roger Deakins. There is much to admire here and the fantastic sequence of a US plane being shot down is unforgettable. Yet at times, this impossible story feels far too safe considering the true story on which it was based. With stand-out performances from O’Connell, as well as Ishihara, there is certainly enough to warrant a recommendation. Fans of Jolie are sure to rejoice in Zamparini’s plight, even if the most emotionally stirring moment is the in memoriam at the end.




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JimmyO is one of’s longest-tenured writers, with him reviewing movies and interviewing celebrities since 2007 as the site’s Los Angeles correspondent.