Unbroken may have the workings of a typical Academy-pleaser, but it has only received three Oscar nominations.
The war epic, directed and produced by Angelina Jolie, follows the true story of a young American man’s survival against all odds.
Louie Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), a former Olympic athlete and bombardier in World War II, survives a plane crash, 47 days stranded at sea and captivity by the Japanese as a prisoner of war.
Despite the high-profile director and inspirational American-centric storyline, it was deservedly the behind the scenes work of an experienced crew that grabbed the attention of the Academy and held this film together.
The film received three Oscar nominations in cinematography, sound mixing and sound editing.
Laura Hillenbrand’s biography of Louie Zamperini, Unbroken: A WWII Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, was adapted into the screenplay by brothers Joel and Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson.
Often dwindling to typical war movie banter, the film’s dialogue is the screenplay’s weakness. When the soldiers aren’t badmouthing the enemy, or taking stabs at each other’s masculinity, they’re proclaiming their determination to survive or their fear of death.
Nevertheless, the screenplay’s non-linear plotline creates a compelling narrative that spans from Zamperini’s childhood in the 1920s to the end of World War II.
O’Connell, a British actor known for roles in 300: Rise of an Empire and the teen drama series Skins, plays Zamperini. With a predictable script, O’Connell’s acting as the slightly cocky and resilient Zamperini is convincing but not groundbreaking.
The most moving relationships in the film are those between Zamperini and characters absent from the screen. Moments when a fellow soldier dies or is lost, or when Zamperini longs for his family at home, are poignant reminders of the challenges of war.
Beautiful and moving, the cinematic efforts of Roger Deakins transform this film. Known for his work on The Shawshank Redemption, No Country for Old Men and Skyfall, he received his 12th Oscar nomination for Unbroken.
A particularly haunting moment achieved by Deakins is when Zamperini, and fellow soldier Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) are found after 47 days at sea by the Japanese navy.
A bird’s-eye-view shot shows the two men lying feebly, like in a coffin, in their battered yellow life raft. It barely stays afloat in the lapping aqua ocean. The silhouette of a naval ship and armed men creeps into the shot, casting Zamperini and Phil in shadow. Zamperini and Phil remain unresponsive, resigned to their fate.
It cuts to a low angle shot, dark and almost colorless, of strong and detached Japanese soldiers aboard the naval ship aiming their weapons.
Another poignant moment enhanced by Deakins’ cinematography is when Zamperini is transferred to another prisoner of war camp. A point of view shot establishes Zamperini’s limited vision of his surroundings through a blindfold.
He glimpses pockets of blinding light, revealing a port and other soldiers, but can mostly just see black. It’s followed by a wide shot of hundreds of US soldiers walking blindfolded with arms outstretched.
It’s these moments of stark contrast that communicate Zamperini’s struggle to survive the chaos of war more powerfully than any other aspect of the film.
Alexandre Desplat, another big behind the scenes name, created a powerful score for Unbroken. With credentials to match Deakins, Desplat has written music for the films Argo and The King’s Speech and been nominated for eight Academy Awards.
Jolie has directed one other film, In the Land of Blood and Honey, which was released in 2011 to mixed reviews. A romantic drama set during the Bosnian war, this film made known the rarely told story of the conflict in Bosnia.
Unbroken does the opposite. In typical Hollywood fashion, this film tells a one-sided, white, male, American perspective of war with no major female characters or ethnic diversity.
The only Japanese character of note, Watanabe, played by Takamasa Ishilhara in his English language feature debut, is the commander of the prisoner of war camp. He is portrayed as brutal and sadistic, while his US prisoners are heroic and resilient, cementing a decidedly one-sided story of war.
Unbroken is undoubtedly an incredible story and its factual nature makes it all the more compelling. It is woven together by beautiful cinematography and a powerful score. Nevertheless, it’s a perspective of war audiences are all too familiar with, and the uninspired dialogue reinforces this.
Via: Jakarta Post