Mastering the art of turning the real life experiences of another person into quality literature is not an easy feat to accomplish. Nor is it commonly something that can be done twice. However, in the case of “Unbroken,” I think it was magnificently captured in both text and film; although I admit that the merits of the movie cannot be attributed to its creator.
The story of Louis Zamperini is, by itself, a remarkable story. He lived a life that only the best of imaginations could have thought up independently. From his early childhood to his last days on earth, Louis was an extremely resilient, energetic, and positive person. However, I think the beauty of the book is not just in the story, but in the way it is told. I doubt that Louis himself could have made it more captivating than author Laura Hilenbrand. Laura’s friendship with Louis is no doubt a big contributor to what made the story feel so personal throughout the book, but her intensive research into the surrounding stories, including things Louis probably never knew, brings the story to the point of being epic. So many small details were sought after by Hilenbrand to make sure that each reader had every piece of information to fully understand not only Louis’ experiences, but those general experiences that all people of the time period had in relation to something as all-encompassing as a world war.
When it comes to telling the truth, making it interesting, and putting a reader right in the middle of the story line, Hilenbrand should be considered a master; the epitome of a truly talented non-fiction writer.
Although the movie is captivating as well, the same praise for being a true creator cannot be given to director Angelina Jolie. Praise for the film must be attributed solely to the actors that brought the situations to visible life. Without the stunning performances of lead actor Jack O’Connell and his many supporting actors, the film could be summed up as a two hour reel of Jolie running in circles with a camera trying to decide what angle might make the empty scenery most dramatic.
Despite the vivid descriptions of the filth, smells, pain, blood, beauty, and hope that Hillenbrand provides within the book, Jolie falls short of capturing anything but a mildly uncomfortable and dreary, yet continually safe rendering of the setting and experiences of Zamperini’s story. Filthy, bug infested barracks and back breaking work in the bitter cold become simply overcrowded and under-cleaned “getaway camp” facilities when captured through Jolie’s camera. The cinematography is predictable at best, and many of the most inspiring elements of the story are either left completely out of the film, or glazed over through disconnected scenes. However, the most disappointing element comes through Jolie’s safe rendering of the devilish Sargent Watanabe.
Despite his efforts as an actor to come off as despicable, cruel, and someone worthy of inducing a lifetime of nightmares for thousands of men, Ishihari’s portrayal of Watanabe comes off as nothing more vicious than what has come to be expected of rough prison guards in modern America. Although Ishihari’s devilish looks of hatred and confusion are enough to connect realistically connect him to the real life war criminal, any opportunity to show his true character through the inhumane actions described by Hilenbrand and casually cut from the camera’s view.
When given the opportunity to let loose and really show the terrible realities of war, Jolie stepped back and opted instead to portray the family friendly version that allows an audience to leave a theater feeling that the world could never be as bad as is claimed by those who have experienced the unyielding scars of war.
Despite the softened version of Zamperini’s life on film, “Unbroken” is sure to remain a hot topic of inspiration for years to come. Hollywood’s shadow can hardly diminish such a resilient light; but if you want to experience something beyond the surface; something that truly touches on the truths of humanity: read the book.