I don’t know if Angelina Jolie‘s Unbroken (Universal, 12.25), which everyone saw Sunday afternoon at the WGA theatre on Doheny, will nab a Best Picture nomination or not, although it could. It’s very well crafted. I can honestly call it admirable, grade-A filmmaking. Anyone would. And it comes straight from Angie’s heart and innards so you can’t call it dispassionate or cynical.
To be honest I began looking at my watch around the 60-minute mark, but I was never dozing or uninterested or bored — I just don’t like being tortured, starved and beaten for 27 months straight, which is what occupies the last 75 minutes.
Unbroken is basically a film about the nobility of long-term suffering, and how that can be (and can be made to seem like) a good thing in a spiritual sense. Or…you know, a good thing if you take the long God’s-eye view.
Because in a close-up view being tortured and beaten and deprived in three Japanese prisoner-of-war camps is a ghastly situation for Jack O’Connell‘s Louis Zamperini, a real-life guy and subject of Laura Hillenbrand‘s best-selling “Unbroken” who passed last July at age 97. And it’s really not that much of a swell picnic for the audience, truth be told. But it delivers a good kind of suffering. One that feels vaguely Christian and conservative on some level. Something tells me the Orange County crowd will find a place in their hearts.
I respect every technical aspect of Unbroken — Roger Deakin‘s cinematography, the performances, the verisimilitude of the flying and bombing scenes, the superb sound editing, Berlin Olympics, the teenage turbulence, etc. The prison camp material (jungle camp, Tokyo camp and a coal-mine camp, all of them colored by the same sadism and brutality) is well shaped and very nicely captured. Portions are oddly beautiful, or at least striking.
Common or rote or unremarkable things happen in this film in startling ways. There’s a Christ-like moment when Zamperini is forced to lift a heavy beam above his head and shoulders — surely his cross to bear for that moment. There’s another moment when a POW falls off a steep metal staircase and drops 25 or 30 feet to the ground…whumpf! (Good God.) There’s also a moment in which a shark suddenly leaps out of the ocean at the camera, one that rivals a similar moment in Steven Spielberg‘s Jaws.
On the other hand it’s odd that Jolie has decided to ignore Zamperini’s reluctant handshake with Adolf Hitler, which happened after his proud performance at the 1936 Olympics. It happened and it was Hitler…c’mon.
I choose to believe that Unbroken is essentially about two personal things. One is Angie’s obviously genuine admiration for Louis and the grand theme of his story, which is basically “if you can take it you can make it” but also “it’s good to have the cojones and the moxie not to let life get you down or make you cynical.” (Or something like that.) The other thing is Angie’s obvious interest in stories about people getting beaten and subjugated and put through hell.
Unbroken reminded me in some respects of Mel Gibson‘s The Passion of the Christ as well as Apocalypto, that other Gibson film about horrible gougings and slicings and beatings.
I’m not the only one who observed after today’s screening that the last 75 minutes of Unbroken are basically Christian torture porn. The notion seems to be that there’s something noble and cleansing and soul-soothing about prolonged agony at the hands of sadists.
I’ve said before that I understand the Angie ass-kissing factor. The BFCA wants her and Brad on their red carpet, and the Academy wants Angie and Brad on their red carpet. It’s quite possible that Unbroken will slip in at the very bottom of the balloting as a sixth- or seventh-place choice.
Nobody I spoke to today thinks Unbroken is a Best Picture nomination shoo-in. It could definitely make it, and I can understand, as noted, why it could.
Nonetheless my basic feelings about the film are respectful. It is, make no mistake, an extremely personal, handsomely composed thing. Jolie’s instincts are direct and unflinching, and her eye (or Deakins’ eye, I should say) is tres elegant. I was a slightly bigger fan of Jolie’s In The Land of Blood and Honey, to be honest, but she’s definitely grown as a director in terms of confidence.
The bottom line is that as problematic as some aspects of Unbroken are for me, I respect Angie for her devotion to a story she cares about and believes in on more than one level, and the film for its honesty and craft levels.