From the beginning of the year, “Unbroken” has been pitched by awards pundits as a strong Oscar contender on paper. It’s directed by one of the world’s biggest movie stars (Angelina Jolie), it’s an inspirational drama set during World War II, it’s based on the true story of an Olympic athlete, and its script was penned by Richard LaGravenese, William Nicholson and the Coen Brothers. So strong is its pedigree that many had it pegged as a frontrunner even though nobody had seen the damn thing.
Well, it’s been seen, and while early reviews are respectful, it doesn’t look to be the slam-dunk many had predicted. Critics are calling “Unbroken” a well-crafted old-school film, but the film hasn’t hit them in the gut the way Jolie has clearly intended. Jack O’Connell’s performance as Louis Zamperini has been praised, but most of the supporting players are said to be underutilized. Perhaps later reviews will be more enthusiastic (and lord knows that even if they aren’t the Academy might vote for it anyway), but for now it’s a reminder that “a sure bet on paper” doesn’t mean much when the film actually hits screens.
“Unbroken” opens in theaters December 25.
Justin Chang, Variety
Impeccable craftsmanship and sober restraint have been brought to bear on “Unbroken,”Angelina Jolie’s beautifully wrought but cumulatively underwhelming portrait of Louis Zamperini…Jolie has achieved something by turns eminently respectable and respectful to a fault, maintaining an intimate, character-driven focus that, despite the skill of the filmmaking and another superb lead performance from Jack O’Connell, never fully roars to dramatic life. A bit embalmed in its own nobility, it’s an extraordinary story told in dutiful, unexceptional terms, the passionate commitment of all involved rarely achieving gut-level impact. Read more.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
“Unbroken” lacks the nuances of O’Connell’s performance, but maintains a slick visual appeal on par with countless studio-mandated war stories going back to the earliest days of the genre. Master cinematographer Roger Deakins’ vibrant palette covers a lot of ground, from the stunning wide angle images of life at sea to a climactic sequence that finds the POWs silhouetted against a golden sky as the Allied forces bomb away. Prolific composer Alexandre Desplat’s jumpy score nearly matches the lively variations of his work on “The Grand Budapest Hotel” earlier this year. In short, “Unbroken” makes considerable efforts to make Zamperini’s travels retain a cinematic appeal. Read more.
Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter
What Jolie succeeds in doing to a substantial degree is representing her hero’s physical ordeal and his tenacious refusal to give up when it would have been very easy to do so. What she and her more than estimable quarter of screenwriters have not entirely pulled off is dramatizing the full range of Louie’s internal suffering, emotional responses and survival mechanisms. Nor have they made any of the secondary characters pop from the anonymous background of prisoner extras. In the great old studio days of the 1930s, writers, directors and actors knew how to give supporting roles real character and sharp identities within a few seconds; such is emphatically not the case here. Read more.
Andrew Pulver, The Guardian
This is a true story, right enough, but there are inevitable echoes of other films: “Chariots of Fire,” “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence.” Though apparently keen to stick to the facts, Jolie’s stolidly conventional approach to the material hardly freshens it up. O’Connell, so eye-catching in the likes of ’71, as well as Starred Up, makes an impressive step up to the Hollywood big leagues, but the flared-nostril emoting required of him tends to swamp the wary-eyed everymannishness of his recent roles. Read more.