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by Peter Sobczynski

"Too Much Blood, Too Little Honey"
2 stars

It seems that at least once every holiday movie season, there is at least one film that arrives with enormous pre-release expectations for critical, commercial and awards glory that all but vanish once people actually begin to see it and realize that, rather the game-changing powerhouse that all of the professional award prognosticators (such things do exist, for those of you keeping track of the downfall of society at home) have forecasted, it is just another ordinary movie that doesn't quite work. (While there are too many examples to list here, any collection of such titles would have to include the likes of "The Shipping News" and "The Lovely Bones" for starters.) Although this season has seen a lot of films that could be considered disappointments, the "Don't Believe the Hype" booby prize probably has to go to "Unbroken." On paper, it seemed to have everything going for it--a stirring storyline based on an enormously popular best-seller, an epic scope, a hot cast of talented young newcomers in front of the camera, a screenplay featuring contributions from the likes of Richard LaGravanese, William Nicholson and Joel & Ethan Coen and a director's chair filled by Angelina Jolie, whose presence has ensured numerous magazine covers and TV news segments dedicated to the project featuring her in all her glamourous glory. And yet, despite all of the talent and all of the hype, the end result never quite comes together into a satisfying whole and even the individual parts are too often left wanting--this is a film that starts off like the kind of project that Clint Eastwood should have been making in the last few years instead of flitting from one half-baked project to the next and winds up being exactly like the kind of film that Eastwood has been making as of late.

Adapted from the best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand, "Unbroken" tells the story of Louis Zamperini, a man who lived the kind of life that would have been most likely been rejected if it had been proposed as a wholly fictional construct on the basis that it was far too unlikely to be even slightly plausible. As a boy (played in his early days by C.J. Valleroy) growing in up Torrance California during the Depression, he was part of an Italian immigrant family whose outsider status made him the target of bullies and who eventually began drifting towards troublemaking of his own. Things turn around for him when, following the inspiring words of older brother Pete (Alex Russell), he begins to apply the running skills that he has developed from escaping from the cops to the world of track and field, eventually finding himself running for the United States in the 1936 Summer Olympics. Unfortunately, before he can reappear at the 1940 Olympics in Tokyo, war breaks out and once America enters the fray, he enlists and winds up as a member of a B-24 crew stationed in the Pacific.

His crew does well in battle but one fateful day, they are sent out on a rescue mission in a plane that is barely being held together with spit and wire and when they go as well, they crash into the Pacific with himself and fellow crew members Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) and Mac (Finn Wittrock) the only survivors. With only two lifeboats and a rapidly dwindling layout of supplies to their name, they spend an astonishing 47 days at sea struggling to survive in the face of rough seas, terrible weather, curious sharks, starvation (an attempt to eat raw pelican goes badly but they have better luck after subduing one of those sharks) and possible madness until they are found by a Japanese naval ship and taking to a P.O.W. camp. The camp is run by Cpl. Watanabe (Miyavi), a brutal young man who recognizes Louis as a sort of kindred spirit and is all the more determined to break him as a result. Despite the brutal punishment inflicted upon him, Louis continues to persevere and even when he is offered a chance to make things easier for himself by recording a propaganda message for the Japanese, he refuses and attracts even more unwanted attention and cruelty from Watanabe as a result.

Louis Zamperini's story is indeed a stirring one and it is not surprising to learn that Hollywood contemplated bringing his life to the big screen as far back as the 1950s in a proposed film version that was to star Tony Curtis long before Hillenbrand's book brought him back to the national consciousness. The trouble is that while the man's accomplishments are impressive to behold, they are not especially compelling when looked at pure from a dramatic standpoint. Essentially, the first half of the film recounts how he transformed from a little punk to celebrated athlete and war hero and the second consists almost entirely of him stoically suffering abuse at the hands of his Japanese tormentors and from a narrative perspective, it kind of grows a bit wearisome after a while. This is not to belittle the things that Zamperini (who passed away earlier this year) endured in any way but watching a man being beaten and tortured for a solid hour (albeit in such a way so as not to threaten its commercially important PG-13 rating) inspires a certain monotony after a while that cannot help but mute the presumed impact of its finale.

Presumably this was the reason why the producers brought in such a dream team of screenwriters--to figure out a way to present the familiar in a new and interesting way--but whether they were afraid of going too far afield or never managed to crack the story, the end result is a film that is just too familiar for its own good with only the extended sequence of the crash survivors floating at sea offering any real moments of interest. (Although I have no way of knowing this, I have a sneaking suspicion that the Coens were behind the bit in which the guys attempt to eat the pelican.) What makes this especially frustrating is that in the final moments, we get a few title cards that touch upon a story far more fascinating than the one we have just seen--all you can do is wonder what the film might have been like if the events just shown had been telescoped into its first half and the title card material had made up the second.

"Unbroken" marks Angelina Jolie's second tour of duty in the director's chair--her previous effort was the equally brutal and harrowing (and decidedly more rapey) Bosnian War drama "In the Land of Blood and Honey" (2011)--and as was the case the first time around, the results are decidedly mixed. On the one hand, this film is well-staged and she juggles the various elements of a fiendishly complicated production with care and intelligence--it looks good throughout and she gets good performances from her cast of largely unknown performers. The problem, and it is the same thing that bogged down "In the Land of Blood and Honey," is that it feels as if Jolie is afraid of being written off as some dilettante who only got the directing job because of who she is and is hell-bent on proving to viewers that she is indeed a serious filmmaker. Alas, it appears that her lone idea of being treated seriously is to present long and excruciating scenes of people inflicting brutal physical punishment on others. This wouldn't be so bad if it was leading to some larger point but Jolie's approach does not seek to elucidate or edify--it merely wants to shock viewers into submission and after a while, it only serves to numb them. If there was any doubt, "Unbroken" proves that Jolie does have what it takes to be an interesting director--all she has to do now is find a project where she is not beating us and her cast over the head to prove that point.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=25966&reviewer=389
originally posted: 12/24/14 16:23:36
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User Comments

11/04/15 Cary Graham The brash, cold cynicism of this review is over the top. See Unbroken & decide for yourself 4 stars
10/30/15 BigWig Started out so engaging and looking great; by the end, I was like, "Fuck yous"... 3 stars
8/17/15 Victoria Disappointing. No character development. Camera work amatureish. 2 stars
1/14/15 Langano Good, not great. 3 stars
12/31/14 Bob Dog It's hardly a holiday charmer - but it's dark reflective survival story is well told. 4 stars
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  25-Dec-2014 (PG-13)
  DVD: 24-Mar-2015


  DVD: 25-Mar-2015

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