Movie Reviews & Interviews from Washington

‘Unbroken’ Review: Starring Jack O’Connell, Garrett Hedlund & Domhnall Gleeson

There isn’t a movie this year that rocked me to my core more or made me feel more proud to be an American than director Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken. It’s a story so brutal and shocking and one that everyone should see.

Based on the true story and best-selling novel by Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken tells the story of Olympian runner Louis “Louie” Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) beginning at his childhood to his imprisonment in a Japanese prisoners-of-war camp during World War II. After the Olympics, Louie enlisted in the war where he had a near-fatal plane crash that left him and two other soldiers Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips (Domhnall Gleeson) and Francis “Mac” McNamara (Finn Wittrock) stranded in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a life raft for 47 days.

After almost dying of starvation and dehydration, Louie was captured by the Japanese navy and brought back to Japan where he was held at a camp along with other American soldiers. Louie, among several other prisoners, was brutally tortured and humiliated by Japanese sergeant Mutsushiro Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara/Miyavi). Watanabe, or “The Bird” as the American prisoners like to call him, tortured and abused prisoners to the brink of death. He had prisoners punch Louie in the face until he couldn’t stand; he slapped Louie multiple times on the nose with his wooden stick; he made him hold a steel beam all afternoon when he didn’t have the strength to continue work. Louie faced so many unspeakable acts in those two years of his life, yet he never gave up on his country or gave in to the Japanese. This film tells his story in the most truthful and memorable way possible.

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English actor Jack O’Connell gives a breakthrough performance as Louie Zamperini. It is best for the story that Jolie casted a lesser-known actor in this role so the audience doesn’t have to be distracted when following the story. O’Connell was fully dedicated in this role and actually lost all of the weight for his imprisonment scenes. His Zamperini is exceptional and a promising lead to a fleshed out career ahead. Supporting actors Garrett Hedlund, who plays John Fitzgerald, a fellow soldier in the prison camp is also noteworthy, while Domhnall Gleeson is incredible as Louie’s friend, who also never gave up hope.

Takamasa Ishihara (he is known as Miyavi in Japan) is absolutely exceptional as Watanabe. He plays the character both terrifying and brutal yet childish and ignorant, a perfect balance that created a memorable and scary villain. The character of Watanabe is the scariest type of villain of all in that he has no motive or reason to torture prisoners but for his own selfish gain. Ishihara is worthy of an Oscar nomination but I fear Unbroken may get shut out at the Oscars this year, like it was at the Golden Globes.

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Beautifully photographed by Roger Deakins (2013’s Prisoners) who makes glorious use of the water background for Louie’s scenes on the raft and of the Australian backdrop where they shot much of the movie for the scenes in Japan, Unbroken features some of the best cinematography of the year. Alexandre Desplat’s (2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel) score is majestic and fitting for an American hero.

Angelina Jolie has proven that she is a promising director in Hollywood and it’s exciting to see what story she is going to tackle next. Jack O’Connell gives the breakout performance of the year as Louie Zamperini in a film that is patriotic and honorable to Zamperini’s memory.

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