“Unbroken” director Angelina Jolie wants viewers to pigeonhole her film into a single word: resilience.
It’s there in all the film’s soon-to-be-cliché catchphrases: “If you can take it, you can make it” and “A moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory.”
“Unbroken” is a film that insists upon itself, knowing its story is inspiring and refuses to allow audiences to forget it.
The movie shows so much promise in its first act, where World War II hero Louis Zamperini’s pre-war exploits — both as a youth and Olympic athlete — are seamlessly woven into what would otherwise be a routine inspirational film set in an already crowded genre.
Once “Unbroken” moves past the early years and dedicates itself solely to Zamperini’s trials and tribulations as a Japanese prisoner of war, the film largely fails to live up to the grandiose expectations it has bestowed upon itself.
There’s not enough grit within the blinding light of “Unbroken,” an area in which 2014’s other World War II film “Fury” excelled.
And it’s a problem that “Unbroken” needs to be compared with “Fury,” because the two films could not be more opposite in directorial style and cinematography, but it is all too often the case in the World War II genre.
Because of the nature of the story, “Unbroken” can’t seem to separate itself from the rest of the genre.
Jack O’Connell as the resilient Zamperini is effective in keeping the film centered and evoking the support and sympathy of audiences, hitting on all the right notes. Missing from the performance is a larger sense of Zamperini’s development of faith in God, which plays a larger role in the book and cannot be faulted to O’Connell.
The best performance in the film, however, is given by Japanese rock star turned actor Miyavi as POW camp leader “The Bird,” a violent, irrational man whose complexities are poignantly evoked both verbally and non-verbally by Miyavi.
In another year, where J.K. Simmons’ stunning turn as a demanding music instructor in “Whiplash” isn’t also eligible, Miyavi’s mesmerizing performance would make him a clear frontrunner for best supporting actor awards.
For a film whose mantra is “If I can take it, I can make it,” “Unbroken” certainly insists upon its viewers taking every plodding second of its 137 minute running time.
“Unbroken” is a very good movie, just not a great one.