In Angelina Jolie’s second turn as a director (her first film was Balkan War drama In the Land of Blood and Honey), she once again turns to the battlefield for inspiration. For Unbroken, Jolie worked off of Lauren Hillenbrand’s best-selling book about the life of Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), a U.S. runner who competed in the 1936 Olympics only to have his mettle truly put to the test a decade later when he was thrown into the maelstrom of WWII. As a pilot, Zamperini and fellow fliers Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) and Mac (Finn Wittrock) were forced to make a crash-landing in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, where they waited for 47 days to be rescued. Eventually the trio was picked up, but by a Japanese warship, which transferred them to a POW camp. The story then follows Louis’s time in prison, which shows us precisely what kind of steel this man was made of.
There’s much to like about Unbroken. It’s a skillfully constructed biopic, and Jolie and O’Connell both deliver strongly. The film is also blessed with an enormously watchable supporting cast and a series of truly great scenes and sequences (though, oddly, the script doesn’t include two of the book’s best moments: a chance encounter between the protagonist and Adolf Hitler at the 1936 Olympics, and the POWs watching one of the atomic bombs that ended the war explode on the horizon). Behind the camera, legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins works wonders. All that said, it’s hard to unequivocally recommend the film. As much as there is to like, there’s also too much we’ve all seen before. Too often, biopics fall into a formulaic, paint-by-numbers mentality; as impressive as Unbroken is, it doesn’t feel original or essential. But if ingenuity isn’t a priority for you, and you’re in the mood for a movie with a good old-fashioned hero to root for, Unbroken is still a solid bet.