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Monday, December 22, 2014

WWII Drama UNBROKEN Is As Generic As It Gets

As Angelina Jolie's UNBROKEN continues to percolate in my head, I start to feel like a fraud. Just a few weeks ago I was singing Jolie's praises, congratulating her for always providing a fresh eye on well-worn concepts (RE: In the Land of Blood and Honey). But then I saw UNBROKEN and...Guys, it is so painfully generic that one could probably copy the review of any derivative WWII film and paste it right here. What a shame.

That's not to say that UNBROKEN is bad. You've just seen it before, and that is bad coming from filmmaker who is usually able to put her own twist on stories. With this film, Jolie's direction just gets completely lost. She becomes typical. Though the opportunity for creativity is more limited given that the film is based on a true story (the life and agonizing journey of  Olympic runner and WWII airman Louis Zamperini), there just isn't anything about the film that stands out -- not the acting, not the story, not the writing and again, not the directing. It's one of those films I call harmless; it's not awful, it's not great. It's just there.

And you never want to be the film that simply exists, especially not something like this that has the potential to be a very personal, heartbreaking story. Instead, it becomes a Wikipedia entry of facts scrolling down a page that provokes no emotion. We see Jack O'Connell as Louis become an airman, get captured (along with fellow airman played by Domhnall Gleeson) by the Japanese and endure cruel torture until his eventual triumphant ending. But as horrifying as some of it was to witness (particularly the abuse scenes), there isn't really anything you don't expect. Which is the problem.

But this isn't just Jolie's failure (that's too simple and convenient a conclusion to come to). Rather, the film has four different screenwriters (including Joel and Ethan Coen, who are continuing their downward spiral these days), who do nothing to help her out. Usually in the case of multiple screenwriters, the film suffers from multiple personality disorder, but in this case there is literally no personality. It just drags on for a whopping 137 minutes, but ultimately has nothing really to say. Even something as subtle as a voice-over narration would have elevated the film, and given it a perspective it needs to keep the audience invested.

We talk a lot about female direction, and allowing our competitive women filmmakers a palate that doesn't merely include romantic comedies and "chick flicks," but goes beyond the typical. And I know folks are already predicting an Oscar nod for Jolie,but does she deserved one? No, not at all. She may receive one later in her career, but this is an unfortunate misstep for her.

While UNBROKEN is a nice handshake to the legacy of the now deceased Zamperini, it adds nothing to the genre, and doesn't boost Jolie's status as a director either. It's meant to be inspiring, but is too remote to encourage such a profound feeling. It's simply a disappointment

Rating: C (** 1/2 out of *****)

UNBROKEN is in theaters December 25th.


Anonymous said...

What a shame, since this story really had potential to be all things. This seems to be the biggest complaint against the film, that I've's just too generic. Nice breakdown. I'll still see this, possibly in the theaters, but my expectations are really low now, sadly.

I had this predicted to sweep Oscars all year...but I have had to eat crow since the reviews dropped since, well, that ain't happening.

Daniel said...

Sadly that's what I expected from all the previews, a shame because the story is really powerful but as a film just looks like it hits way too many familiar notes.....

37paddington said...

Disappointing. I was rooting for Jolie. Love your review tho.

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