Many filmmakers as of late have derived from the individuals that dominate in front of the camera; the likes of Ben Affleck, George Clooney, and Sean Penn are the core examples that come to mind, capturing the awe of a much more mainstream audience due to the status they have collected for themselves. Although such a feat is nothing new in Hollywood cinema, as even back in the days of Buster Keaton that such a transition has been demonstrated to the masses. Even gender wouldn’t break any modern waves due to the fact that Lena Dunham and Sarah Polley have been taking on the responsibilities from behind the camera, although the former not so much as of late, shrinking herself down to the size of television. Therefore the arrival of Angelina Jolie shouldn’t necessarily be as impressive as it seems, but neither of those two mentioned filmmakers could possibly gain the immediacy and hype within such a competitive studio system as Jolie, since the turn of the century, she has gained popularity and have utilised it to better use than most, and now with the position of behind the camera, one could imagine the capabilities of such a woman display a voice through an embraced medium.
As of yet, risks have yet to be taken by the actor turned director, Jolie still gaining a reputation and confidence for her future within the system, hoping to prove that she is able to collect financial profit whilst being able to display a captivating story; for me to note on her debut film, In the Land of Blood and Honey would be difficult since I have yet to see it and know very little of it, aside from the fact that she was deeply involved in the project, acting as also writer and producer. Unbroken, her follow-up film, finds herself in a tale more patriotic and uplifting, with a premise that is obvious in its bait for something substantial and “Oscar worthy”, now distant from the actual writing process, placed in the hands of notable names such as the Coen Brothers and Richard LaGravenese, a decision that I felt was lacking that sense of passion in Jolie’s execution, despite her actual affection and admiration for the film’s subject. Along the way, she was also able to recruit such worthy names like Alexandre Desplat on the musical score and Roger Deakins as her director of photography, an assembly of names that should leave many of us coming into it with high hopes as very few, especially from an up-and-coming director, could gain such a crew.
As expected, the film’s technicalities are immaculate with Deakins photography taking on a pristine gloss, filled with many of its ambitious sequences with competent visual effects, accompanied with the capable score by Desplat that aims to amplify the narrative’s emotional beats; but unfortunately the Jolie’s sentimental execution of its most crucial moments, whether they may be its moment of redemption or suffering for the protagonist, it finds itself at its most traditional, close to unbearably loathe worthy, dampening the overall effects of Jolie’s collaborators and instead of gaining the sense of respect and admiration for her intended subject, her audience instead becomes distant from him as the idea of being manipulated to feel for the central character is deeply frustrating; at times stripping him of his human quality that allows for empathy, instead leaving us with a forced sense of sympathy that becomes as painful and as bombarding as the cruel strikes of its primary antagonist, a Japanese Prison Sergeant.
Unbroken fortunately evades most of its tragedies as moments of quiet character development and plotting takes on a comfortable outlook on the protagonist’s journey, highlighting his minor but abundant highs and lows that allows the audience to comfortably understand and absorb him; true, Jolie could allow scenes to take on a more challenging tactic, possibly add a slightly more fractured and dark element that accurately portrays such a character, since the film emphasises the character’s ability to endure such a tragedy and come out of it as a changed figure, motivated by forgiveness rather than revenge, but such an element was oddly quiet during the depiction of his journey. The script’s ambitions to expose the exhaustive life of Louis Zamperini would have it travel through the areas of his childhood, the rise of his career as a runner, his involvement in the war, and finally the experiences he would endure after an unfortunate accident and capture by enemy soldiers; they find fitting gaps to explore such areas in his life through the usage of flashbacks, one that never felt off-putting in its transition, although sentimentally indulgent when reaching its median. Unbroken should be a penetrative and inspiring journey, but it only seems to strive for the latter, not realising that such intentions are required to co-exist to result in something emotionally stirring and intelligently gripping, the film only fills itself half-glass full, almost as if Jolie, afraid to take such risks to avoid intrusion to its accessibility.
Again, under Jolie’s direction, Jack O’Connell’s leading performance lacks that emphasis needed from such a role, which is ironic since Jolie comes from the world of acting and should understand the necessary components of elevating a performance, but Jolie may have also found herself possibly too overwhelmed to place such emphasis, leaving far too much weight on O’Connell’s shoulders that he was thankfully able to carry and come out of it more than competent.
Unbroken is a film that may be far too soon from Jolie, taking on a tale that may have demanded more than she could handle, surrounded by a crew far more experienced than herself, featuring less involvement in the writing process than she was in her independent debut, leaving us with a film that is reaches for safer grounds than anything ground-shaking or revelatory, but fortunately enough efficiency from certain aspects of the film was evident that I found myself superficially entertained and mildly provoked, showing a slice of care for its depicted legend, perhaps even more so than some of its year’s biographical peers adapted for the screen.