UNBROKEN just doesn’t work.

By jes. on December 17, 2014

MV5BMTY3ODg2OTgyOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODk1OTAwMzE@._V1_SX214_AL_HOLLYWOOD (Herald de Paris) — ¬†“In America,” Wrote Tom Brokaw in his book, The Greatest Generation, “Young men were enlisting in the military by the hundreds of thousands. Farm kids from the Great Plains who never expected to see the ocean in their lifetimes signed up for the Navy; brothers followed brothers into the Marines; young daredevils who were fascinated by the new frontiers of flight volunteered for pilot training. Single young women poured into Washington to fill the exploding needs for clerical help as the political capital mobilized for war. Other women, their husbands or boyfriends off to basic training, learned to drive trucks or handle welding torches. The old rules of gender and expectation changed radically with what was now expected of this generation.”

Hardly a single film on WWII has been made that does not explore these basic themes Рthey are endemic to the evolution of the American experience, and to the WWII generation in particular.  A basic understanding of the themes of sacrifice, commitment, honor, and the evolution of a nation resides in all WWII films.  Even those which do not earn critical acclaim, like the 2001 Pearl Harbor, at least respect this.

In her directorial debut, Angelina Jolie takes on a WWII story, the tale of an Italian immigrant and US Olympian, Louis Zamperini.  Ms. Jolie chose a great story to tell.  The execution, however, fails.

“Run Forest, Run.”

Zamperini, who ran his way onto the 1936 US Olympic team, was a champion. ¬†His rise to war hero could have been marked by so many aspects of his life. ¬†An immigrant boy fighting alongside the very kids who called him names as a child, just for being Italian, Zamperini’s story could have been a metaphor for the way an entire nation came together. ¬†Instead, Ms. Jolie treated us to a near comical cliche of endless running flashbacks, reminiscent of an episode of Wayne’s World, only without the comic relief. ¬†The running scenes fall short of Chariots of Fire or even Forest Gump, but come across like veiled knock-offs of the originals. ¬†At least we now know some of Ms. Jolie’s favorite movies.

There is nothing pretty about war, and yet, Unbroken might be the darkest film ever made on the subject, and solely because the movie over-used dirt. ¬†There is a lot of dirt in the film – real dirt – as if Ms. Jolie’s best allegorical reference was to say, “War is dirty,” which is more than an understatement. ¬†Steven Spielberg’s WWII films,¬†Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan, tackled much heavier and horrifying subject matter, and did so without leaving the audience feeling like they were dropped in the mud and stepped upon.

In one of the closing scenes of Unbroken, half-naked and dirt-covered young men are all standing waste-deep in water Рtheir hair mud-caked but perfect.  The director did not depict the true horrors of war, but instead gave us an aerial view of a Madonna video set.

The characters, besides Zamperini himself, are completely forgettable. ¬†Some characters just disappear and you never know what happened to them, and if the characters are not memorable enough for the director to complete their story arcs, how is the audience supposed to care about them at all? ¬†Nevertheless, the most surprising omission in Unbroken is the one thing you don’t expect from a talented actress striving to make her mark in her directorial debut – there is not a single strong or memorable female character in the entire film. ¬†One has to wonder if Ms. Jolie’s ego as an actress clouded her ability to direct here. ¬†Great actors who become great directors, like Redford and Eastwood, check their ego at the door.

“We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Considerably shy of Ang Lee’s, Life of Pi, and light years from JAWS, Ms. Jolie’s attempt at depicting life at sea was again filled with cliche after cliche. ¬†There are no seminal or ground breaking scenes in Unbroken – more a collection of scenes from other movies, adapted to Ms. Jolie’s interpretation of Zamperini’s story line. ¬†And while some of the Japanese scenes may have been some of the most memorable in the film, they still fall short of Michael Bay’s depiction of the Imperial Japanese Naval command in Pearl Harbor, which may be the most honest depiction of the Japanese perspective in any film.

Even the Unbroken poster image, with the Zamperini character “Crucified” by a wooden beam over his head, was stolen from one of Bay’s final scenes in Pearl Harbor, when Josh Hartnett’s character, Danny, is captured by a Japanese patrol in China.” ¬†The blatancy is just too obvious.

‚ÄúA common lament of the World War II generation is the absence today of personal responsibility,” Wrote Brokaw. ¬†Unbroken is a good story poorly told, and Ms. Jolie’s apologists will not allow their heroine to take her lumps for delivering a bad film. ¬†A particular apologist has gone so far as to use the old Hollywood threat, telling people who don’t like the film they, “Are not expressing a wise opinion.”

The wisest opinion is an honest opinion.

Sadly, Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut, Unbroken, might be the most disappointing and sophomoric attempt to tell a WWII movie ever delivered. ¬†This is not meant to mock or discredit Ms. Jolie – who can be a very good actress in the right roles – but her directorial effort here misses the mark, particularly with the WWII generation it was intended to herald.

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