Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken tells an extraordinary survival story in a mostly uninspiring way- but it’s likely to make a lot of money worldwide.
That’s the consensus among the first batch of US reviews which have appeared online following previews in Los Angeles and New York.
The critics are divided over the Universal production's Oscar prospects but some rate Jack O’Connell as Louis Zamperini, the former US Olympic athlete who was captured by the Japanese in WW2 after his plane crashed into the Pacific, as a good bet for best actor.
Filmed in Australia and based on Laura Hillenbrand’s book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, the drama opens in the US on Boxing Day and in Oz on January 15.
Variety’s Justin Chang seemed to sum up the ambivalent mood among critics when he wrote, “In re-creating the nightmarish journey so harrowingly relayed in Laura Hillenbrand’s biography, 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.”
Nonetheless Chang predicted a sizable worldwide audience for this “capably stirring, morally unambiguous and classically polished prestige picture about an unusually spirited member of the Greatest Generation who survived a hell beyond anyone’s imagination.”
The Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy declared, “A great true story is telescoped down to a merely good one in Unbroken. After a dynamite first half-hour, Angelina Jolie's accomplished second outing as a director slowly loses steam as it chronicles the inhuman dose of suffering endured by Olympic runner Louie Zamperini in Japanese internment camps during World War II.
“Wonderfully acted by Jack O'Connell in the leading role and guided with a steady hand by Jolie without unduly inflating the heroics or injecting maudlin clichés, this will be a tough film for some to take. But it also has strong appeal as an extraordinary survival story. A robust box-office future should be in store at home and abroad.”
IndieWire's Eric Kohn opined, “Another commanding tale of perseverance against seemingly insurmountable odds, the movie finds Jolie flexing more sentimental muscles, resulting in a classical feel-good wartime excursion. That's just enough to make the movie work in the confines of its formula while laying its limitations bare.
“As with Blood and Honey Jolie's sophomore outing breaks no new ground, but manages to convey its real-life odyssey with a largely agreeable, celebratory tone. At over two hours, the movie's galvanizing spirit grows weary. But Jolie keeps the narrative afloat thanks to first-rate craftsmanship, a few well-honed moments of bona-fide suspense, and a terrifically restrained Jack O'Connell in the lead role.
”While it only hints at the sweeping epic that never fully materializes, Unbroken offers further proof that Jolie's directorial instincts pass muster alongside her other talents.”
The Wrap’s Alonso Duralde found, “There are powerful moments in Unbroken, to be sure, but it also feels like the kind of generically grand-scale movie that five other directors could have made in exactly the same way. Ultimately, the strengths far outweigh its flaws; given that we know the fate of its protagonist, Jolie keeps us engaged in his travails.”
The Guardian’s Andrew Pulver was less impressed, observing, “Though high-minded and well-intentioned – as well as being conceived on an epic scale – there’s something faintly stodgy and safety-first about the endeavour.”
Variety rates Unbroken as a sure-fire nominee for best picture (which potentially has carried less clout since the nominee list was doubled to 10 in 2010) and sees Jolie as a likely contender for best director.