Review: Unbroken

The subject of war is tackled yet again by Angelina Jolie, whose directorial debut in film was 2011’s In The Land of Blood and Honey.

Based on the eponymous novel by Lauren Hillenbrand, Unbroken is the true story of track-and-field Olympian, Louie Zamperini, and his capture and fight for freedom at the hands of the Japanese in World War 2 (WW2).

The young Zamperini was impish and defiant, hiding alcohol in whitewashed milk bottles and smoking on the sly. It was his brother Pete, who pushed him to train and qualify for the high school track team.


“If you can take it, you can make it” was their mantra. Emboldened, Zamperini went on to set the national high school record of 4 minutes and 21 seconds in 1943.

With the advent of World War 2, the 1940 Tokyo Olympics were cancelled and Zamperini enlisted in the army. While on a mission, the plane flying 26-year-old Zamperini and his crew was shot down. He took refuge on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with 2 soldiers, surviving on raw fish and birds, while exposed to extreme weather conditions, unpredictable tides and sharks.

After nearly 2 months at sea, Zamperini was captured by Japanese soldiers and subsequently sent to a concentration camp.


Along with other POWs, Zamperini endured physical and psychological abuse. Unfortunately for him, he was deemed a threat by General Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara). The real Watanabe was said to be prone to mood swings. In the film, Watanabe whips Zamperini across the head, only to hand him a handkerchief after – and resume whipping him.


Takamasa Ishihara, is a surprising addition to the cast. For the uninitiated, Ishihara, also known as Japanese rock star Miyavi, rocks multiple facial piercings, tattoos and multiple hair colors onstage. It’s a stark contrast to his army fatigues and close-cropped haircut in Unbroken.

Here, he uses his deathstare to great effect, striking fear in Zamperini, who faints when he sees him again at the second concentration camp he’s interned at. As an actor, Ishihara has the cold, calculated air of an army general down to a science, but unfortunately doesn’t seem to maintain it convincingly. He seems to break too easily in the face of Zamperini’s courage and determination, and his prideful countenance looked unnatural at times.


Jolie’s decision of picking a relatively obscure British actor to play the war hero is commendable. Jack O’ Connell is completely unrecognizable from his Skins days, where he played the hedonistic, ne’er-do-well Cook. Now sporting black hair and a piercing, handsome gaze, he might be the next breakout star of Hollywood, if the awards-season buzz around Unbroken translates into meatier roles for him.


However, this writer feels as if Jolie and team had glossed over the grittier aspects of WW2. The subject of war and Zamperini’s struggle in the face of his tormentors were unfortunately, either treated with a light touch or excluded altogether.

Where did Zamperini’s mental strength come from? Is it from the memories of his family, or the mantra his brother passed to him? What was Zamperini’s internal struggle? Did his positive mindset develop overnight or did Zamperini have demons of his own to grapple with?

These questions were unfortunately unanswered in the film. Zamperini was made out to be more of an inspirational figure. We ended up forgetting that above everything, he was a human being equally strong in the face of adversity and weak in other parts. We didn’t feel like we knew him as one.


The film didn’t include Zamperini’s troubles with alcohol after the war – something we’d probably have to find out through the novel. Too much veneration and homage was paid, which smells of Oscar bait. . Jolie and team could have been more hard-hitting when it came to highlighting the ravages of war on the soldiers, their spirits and their families.

Ironically the POWs are mostly well-groomed, hair coiffed to a fault every morning even if their faces are streaked black by sweat and coal dust. We’ll never know if they really kept up their appearances even when made to carry coal and metal beams.


At nearly 2.5 hours, Unbroken’s runtime is justified due to its subject matter and mostly-detailed retelling of Zamperini’s life, from boyhood to freedom. However, this film could have been reangled to portray one of American war history’s legends in a more humane light, instead of taking into account how it would fare among its fellow Oscar contenders.

Rating: 3.5/5


Release Date: February 5

Genre: Drama

Cast: Jack O’ Connell, Garrett Hedlund, Domnhall Gleeson, Takamasa Ishihara

Director: Angelina Jolie

Language: English, Japanese

Runtime: 137 minutes

Censorship Rating: PG