By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3 (Out of 4 Stars)
For certain, Louis Lamperini’s story is a compelling, moving, and inspiring one. However, as a fascinating a story it is, the film adaptation of Lamperini’s experiences before and during World War II covers material that is all too familiar and does so working all of the usual Oscar bait cliches. Making her directorial debut, Angelina Jolie shows the ability to helm a major feature film, but doesn’t really bring a unique style to her piece. With familiar cinematography by Roger Deakins, and a sentimental score by Alexandre Desplat, this movie comes across as a Spielberg/Eastwood hybrid, and not a particularly exceptional one at that.
Louis Lamperini (Jack O’Connell) may have come from humble beginnings, but has always seemed destined for greatness. With the encouragement and help of his brother Pete (Alex Russell), Louie becomes a successful track runner in high school and goes on to compete in the 1936 Olympics. When the times arrives for the next summer games, which are scheduled to take place in Tokyo, Japan, World War II has broken out cancelling all plans for the event. Lamperini enlists in the United States Army Air Forces and eventually becomes a prisoner of the Japanese after surviving a plane crash. Raised to be strong and tenacious by his brother and family, Lamperini’s will gets put to the test by the highly abusive Mutushiro Wattanabe (Takamasha Ishihara), the head officer of the prison camp.
Screenwriters Joel and Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, and William Nicholson all worked on the screenplay based on Lauren Hillenbrand’s book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resillience, and Redemption. The story does cover a lot of ground, offering audiences a glimpse into Lamperini’s childhood as well as his Olympic competitions and wartime experiences, but part of me feels that new movie badly needed some more efficient editing and storytelling. Some sequences unnecessarily take up way too much time. Jolie’s movie tries to cover too much ground and the film as a whole suffers because of this. Don’t get me wrong; I do find Lamperini’s story rather engrossing and powerful. I just think that Jolie and her editor needed to be more efficient and selective with their choices.
The movie does have solid performances by the entire cast. British actor Jack O’Connell brings much charisma and passion to his lead role as Lamperini. Takamasha Ishihara is intensely brutal as the hateful Wattanabe. The film also features stellar turns by Finn Wittrock, Jai Courtenay, Garrett Hedlund, and Domhnall Gleeson. O’Connell and his fellow prisoner actors obviously committed to their roles intensely by dropping the necessary weight to show their frailty due to starvation and exhaustion. O’Connell also appears to be in great shape for his track scenes.
Even though this film does embrace Oscar bait dramatics, it is still a movie worth watching. Lamperini’s story alone makes this picture not one to miss. I would recommend it as a matinee movie, mainly because it is so long and might make for an exhausting evening screening. Because of Roger Deakins’ lovely cinematography and some of the impressive war scenes, I feel that this movie should be experienced on the big screen.