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Films like “Unbroken,” and the Laura Hillenbrand book on which it’s based, capture something we all hope is true about ourselves—that we too are unbreakable. That when faced with horrendous, life-threatening situations, we would respond in similar fashion to Louis Zamperini, finding a new well of courage within ourselves and surviving the unimaginable. It is the resilience of the human spirit that has drawn us to films based on true stories again and again to experience pain and triumph in the relative comfort of a movie theater seat.

“Unbroken” opens with a powerfully staged and shot sequence of aerial combat that surprisingly defines the film's strengths and weaknesses over the next two-plus hours. The attention to detail as Zamperini (Jack O’Connell), Russell ‘Phil’ Phillips ( Domhnall Gleeson ) and Hugh ‘Cup’ Cuppernell (Jai Courtney) spin their plane around and take aim at the enemy feels accurate. There’s a weight to the gunfire and a fragility to the aircraft itself that conveys that these people were always a more-accurate gunsight away from tragedy. And yet there’s something wrong here too. The sunset on the horizon looks like a painting. The clouds are perfectly placed for visual impact. The little drop of blood on Zamperini’s forehead can’t hide his movie star looks or movie star make-up. Everything feels accurate in its staging, and yet also not quite genuine. It's Hollywood, old-fashioned movie accurate. And despite O’Connell’s instant charisma (the guy is going to be a MASSIVE star), this feeling never leaves “Unbroken”—the sense that we’re watching human suffering that looks too pretty and too refined to convey its intended impact.

Louis Zamperini should have become a household name for his athletic ability. The “Torrance Tornado” was a US Olympic athlete whose career was cut short when he joined World War II as a bombardier. Even in country, Zamperini is seen training, pushing himself right at the moment that most people would give up. He is the kind of runner who hangs back, and only makes his move when everyone has reached the point of exhaustion. Of course, this is a character trait that will serve him well during the nightmare he’s about to endure.

Zamperini and two other men, including Phil, survive a plane crash in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. They barely make it long enough to board a raft, where the conditions of hunger, dehydration and heat exhaustion take their toll. These scenes are remarkably well-staged and executed by director Angelina Jolie and her team. They’re the best in the film, the moments in which we can feel Zamperini’s increasing desperation and likely death. They have a focus, fragility and purpose that the second half of the film lacks.

That begins when Zamperini is captured after 47 days adrift, and forced into horrific conditions and hard labor in Japanese Prisoner of War camps. Here, Jolie simply fails to convey the danger and what’s truly at stake. “Unbroken” starts to go through the motions of history recreation instead of real character drama, and while I have loved Roger Deakins ’ work in the past, it’s too “pretty” here, covering every shot in that vague beige of WWII memory, which never allows us to put ourselves in Zamperini’s speedy shoes. If we can’t feel the urgency of his plight, we won’t have the same emotional response to it as we would with more blood, more dirt, and just more danger. It becomes something we watch instead of something we experience. There's a difference.

The relative disappointment of “Unbroken” has nothing to do with Jack O’Connell, a truly gifted actor who has emerged as a fully-formed movie star with this, his even better work in “ Starred Up ,” and next year’s great “’71.” He may not be a household name yet. He will be. In fact, he’s so good that one wishes Jolie asked more of him. Gleeson also deserves praise for taking a smaller role and making it memorable. He too is an actor really worth watching. “Unbroken” could be a film that we look back on as an early entry in the careers of major stars.

Because the disappointing thing is we won’t really look back at the film itself on its own merits. It’s one of those inspirational Hollywood dramas about which there isn’t anything "overtly wrong" with it. It’s well-cast, it looks great, it has that intense centerpiece in the raft, and it certainly conveys a true story worth telling. And yet I keep coming back to that beautiful sunrise that opens the film. It’s just too damn pretty.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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Film Credits

Unbroken movie poster

Unbroken (2014)

Rated PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language

137 minutes

Jack O'Connell as Louis Zamperini

Takamasa Ishihara as Mutsuhiro 'The Bird' Watanabe

Garrett Hedlund as John Fitzgerald

Jai Courtney as Hugh 'Cup' Cuppernell

Domhnall Gleeson as Russel Allen 'Phil' Phillips

Finn Wittrock as Francis 'Mac' McNamara

John Magaro as Frank A. Tinker

Alex Russell as Pete Zamperini

Luke Treadaway as Miller

  • Angelina Jolie
  • Richard Lagravenese
  • William Nicholson

Director of Photography

  • Roger Deakins

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Intense WWII biopic is inspiring but doesn't go deep enough.

Unbroken Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this movie.

The main character's intense determination helps h

Zamperini managed to survive 47 days stranded at s

Plenty of war-related violence. Early scenes show

Non-sexual nudity includes a scene in which prison

Brief profanity includes a partial "f--k," "s--t,"

A teen boy takes swigs from liquor disguised in mi

Parents need to know that Unbroken is Angelina Jolie's affecting, inspiring biopic about Louis Zamperini (Jack O'Connell), an Olympic athlete who finds himself tested all sorts of ways during World War II, culminating in a two-year stint in a Japanese prison camp. As expected based on the source material (the…

Positive Messages

The main character's intense determination helps him make it to the Olympics and, later, to survive as a POW, despite unbearably horrible circumstances. This is definitely a story about perseverance and triumph in the face of adversity.

Positive Role Models

Zamperini managed to survive 47 days stranded at sea and then two years in a Japanese POW camp because of his grit, resilience, and unbreakable will. Other characters are shown deteriorating, both physically and mentally.

Violence & Scariness

Plenty of war-related violence. Early scenes show aerial combat, with planes and crewmen getting shot up and exploding. Then a trio of men is lost at sea in a small raft, struggling to survive; they take on sharks with their bare hands. The last act takes place in a Japanese POW camp run by a brutal sadist. The prisoners are beaten with sticks, threatened with swords, given meager rations, and forced into slave labor. They're also forced to undress; their bare bottoms are shown, and they cover their genitals with their hands.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Violence & Scariness in your kid's entertainment guide.

Sex, Romance & Nudity

Non-sexual nudity includes a scene in which prisoners are forced to undress, and viewers see their bare bottoms.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Sex, Romance & Nudity in your kid's entertainment guide.

Brief profanity includes a partial "f--k," "s--t," "damn," and "ass."

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Language in your kid's entertainment guide.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A teen boy takes swigs from liquor disguised in milk bottles. Some characters smoke cigarettes (accurate for the era). Adult soldiers drink beer.

Did you know you can flag iffy content? Adjust limits for Drinking, Drugs & Smoking in your kid's entertainment guide.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Unbroken is Angelina Jolie 's affecting, inspiring biopic about Louis Zamperini ( Jack O'Connell ), an Olympic athlete who finds himself tested all sorts of ways during World War II, culminating in a two-year stint in a Japanese prison camp. As expected based on the source material (the script was adapted from Laura Hillenbrand's book about Zamperini's life), there are plenty of scenes showing torturous abuse, including beatings, verbal harangues, and psychological attacks; some of it is quite difficult to watch. Aerial combat footage includes explosions, and Zamperini's time adrift on the ocean is also intense; at one point, he and his boatmates take on sharks with their bare hands. Language is infrequent and mild, but some early scenes portray a teenager smoking and drinking. Families may want to check out Hillenbrand's young adult adaptation of her bestselling book. To stay in the loop on more movies like this, you can sign up for weekly Family Movie Night emails .

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  • Parents say (9)
  • Kids say (42)

Based on 9 parent reviews

Certainly not a feel good movie, but worth the watch.

What's the story.

Based on Lauren Hillenbrand's same-named book, UNBROKEN tells the true story of Louis Zamperini ( Jack O'Connel l), an Olympic athlete who impressed the world in the 1936 Olympics by running the final lap of the 5,000-meter event in a blazing 56 seconds. And later, after surviving 47 days adrift in the Pacific after a plane crash, he became a POW in Japan for two years. Remarkable and resilient, Zamperini survives the meanest challenges of life, including being stranded on a raft with two other crewmen, only to be picked up by a Japanese naval ship and spirited behind enemy lines, where he's beaten and tortured.

Is It Any Good?

This movie will undoubtedly leave audiences with nothing but admiration for the strong, noble Zamperini, and for this alone, it's worth watching. It's also notable for its lush cinematography and disciplined storytelling, which doesn't rely overly on swelling music and other tricks to make audiences feel with a capital F.

But for a film that does so much, Unbroken still falls short in some aspects. A footnote at the end hints at incomparable kindness that Zamperini bestowed upon his enemies, and yet this is told in words rather than images. It's a pity. And though it's clear Zamperini survives partly by holding on to the lessons his brother gave him -- words that echo through his head and that the audience hears -- it feels like there's much more depth to him that's left unexplored. And what of his pain? The film hints that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder of some kind; completely understandable, given the circumstances, but nothing makes a man even more unbroken than to have survived all so much while still maintaining the measure of grace that historians said Zamperini had -- but that's not quite reflected here. We would have loved to have seen the whole story.

Talk to Your Kids About ...

Families can talk about Unbroken 's violent scenes. How do the prison camp abuse scenes make you feel? Did they need to be included so audiences could understand what Zamperini went through? How do they compare to the scenes of aerial combat and of the men adrift in the ocean? Which had the most impact on you, and why?

How does battle affect people? Do you think movies and TV shows depict it realistically? What are the consequences?

What do you think kept Zamperini persevering , despite all the challenges he faced? How is he a role model ? Do you think the film portrays him accurately?

Movie Details

  • In theaters : December 25, 2014
  • On DVD or streaming : March 24, 2015
  • Cast : Jack O'Connell , Domhnall Gleeson , Jai Courtney
  • Director : Angelina Jolie
  • Inclusion Information : Female directors
  • Studio : Universal Pictures
  • Genre : Drama
  • Topics : History
  • Character Strengths : Perseverance
  • Run time : 137 minutes
  • MPAA rating : PG-13
  • MPAA explanation : war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language
  • Last updated : May 31, 2023

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‘Unbroken’ Reviews: Angelina Jolie’s Star Jack O’Connell Gets More Critical Praise Than She Does

Reactions to the awards hopeful are mixed

unbroken movie review rotten tomatoes

After much hype from Universal Pictures, Angelina Jolie ‘s “Unbroken” finally hits theaters on Christmas Day — but is it any good?

According to the critics counted on Rotten Tomatoes , it’s fine, but probably not the awards contender the studio was hoping for. Although declared “rotten” with a 48 percent critic approval rating, individual reviews seem to be filled with mixed emotions that should boost Jolie’s confidence behind the camera, and star Jack O’Connell ‘s in front of it.

TheWrap ‘s Alonso Duralde, for example, found the movie flawed, but full of strengths that will hopefully carry on to Jolie’s third directorial effort, “By the Sea.”

“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,” Duralde wrote in his review . “Ultimately, the strengths of ‘Unbroken’ far outweigh its flaws; given that we know the fate of its protagonist, Jolie keeps us engaged in his travails, which the similarly-themed ‘Rosewater’ didn’t manage to do.

“It’s a handsome production, featuring a fine ensemble (that also includes Garrett Hedlund ) who remain on-point through what must have been difficult filming circumstances, as well as a potent reminder that the Second World War, for all the glamorizing it endured over the ensuing decades, was as horrifying and devastating as any other conflict in human history.”

Entertainment Weekly critic Chris Nashawaty praised O’Connell’s turn as real-life war hero and Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini, and but wanted more “spark of danger” from Jolie behind the camera.

“[Jolie] turns the undeniably inspiring true story of Louie Zamperini into an oddly old-fashioned drama. It’s gorgeously shot and beautifully acted, and it has moments of heartbreaking poignancy, but it’s also nearly suffocated by its own nobility,” Nashawaty wrote. “O’Connell, a real star on the rise who bristled with mad-dog menace in the recent prison drama ‘Starred Up,’ is totally hypnotic. And the physical deprivation he underwent for the role is impressive. I just wish that Jolie’s film had the same rawness. Instead, it’s moving, admirable, and occasionally exhilarating.”

USA Today critic Claudia Puig extended many of the same compliments, but pointed out a major flaw: It’s “slow to the point of tedium.”

“Perhaps fewer scenes chronicling his torturous days at the prison camp and a conclusion that included his attempts at reconciliation would have made the story more compelling,” Puig wrote. “A closing shot of the real Zamperini, at 80, running at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Japan, is deeply moving. He died earlier this year at 97. A documentary featuring his personal recollections might have been more fascinating than this big Hollywood movie. Though O’Connell’s vulnerable lead performance is terrific, ‘Unbroken’s’ unrestrained hero worship undermines the story.”

LA Weekly critic Amy Nicholson found that Jolie’s approach to telling the powerful story of an Olympian lost at sea, and then brutally tortured by the Japanese was a touch too brutal for her taste.

“Jolie is more fixated on gore than grace. In making us feel every crushing blow — the better to burnish her reputation as a serious director — we’re shortchanged on the beauty of Zamperini’s story, and we exit blinking into the theater lobby with our hands still clenched in fists,” Nicholson wrote. “‘Unbroken’ wants it all: the big cinematography, the close-up grit, the postcard flashbacks and the grisly Götterdämmerung that earns directors awards. But it aches for a lighter touch — the facts of Zamperini’s life more than stand on their own.”

Digital Spy critic Simon Reynolds was particularly impressed with the picture, shot by cinematographer Roger Deakins — an 11-time Oscar nominee — and recommended it wholeheartedly to those voting for this year’s Academy Awards.

“‘Unbroken’ looks poised to break into the Best Picture Oscar race. Trauma cuts deep into the heart of its hero, but the intensity never ratchets up to a level that’s likely to put off the silver-haired Academy voters who hold plenty of sway,” Reynolds wrote. “Perhaps the most impressive thing about “Unbroken” is how comfortable Jolie seems behind the camera. This has an old school classic Hollywood feel, its story an eclectic mash-up of ‘Chariots of Fire,’ ‘Jaws’ and ‘Bridge on the River Kwai.’ This is all well-worn territory, however it’s still accomplished enough to suggest acting’s loss could ultimately be cinema’s long-term gain.”

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Jack O'Connell in Unbroken

Unbroken review – Angelina Jolie dodges Oscar by rote telling of amazing tale

Though epic and ambitious, Jolie’s second outing as a director fails to do justice to the rousing real-life story of Louis Zamperini

F or her second film as a director, Angelina Jolie has elected to go down the old-school Hollywood route: an inspirational war picture about athlete-turned-soldier Louis Zamperini, who survived weeks adrift in an open boat after his plane was shot down over the Pacific during the second world war, then endured a horrific period in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. 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.

Jolie does, however, get things off to a cracking start. She introduces Zamperini in his role as a B-52 bombardier on a flight as the US is pushing the Japanese back across the Pacific. Zamperini (played by Starred Up ’s Jack O’Connell) drops his bombs, then has to grapple with a stuck bomb-bay door as his plane takes vicious fire from enemy fighters. Jolie films the sequence with a rackety, clanging realism that puts you right in the cockpit.

Jack O’Connell in Unbroken

Unfortunately, things aren’t maintained at this intense pitch. Zamperini’s story breaks down neatly into a three-act structure, and Unbroken appears to take its cue rather too readily from this well-made, conventional narrative design. Picked on as an Italian immigrant, the boy Zamperini turns out to possess proper athletic chops (first revealed after he is discovered peering up girls’ skirts at a sports meet, incidentally). He goes on to make the US Olympic team for the 1936 games and, though he doesn’t win a medal, his storming final lap wins admiring reviews. Next, after being shot down during the war, he ends up in a rubber dinghy with two other survivors, and drifts for weeks on the open ocean, fending off sharks and eating raw albatross. Then comes the final third: a fey, sadistic Japanese camp commandant develops an unhealthy interest in him, subjecting him to curious partiality one moment, barbaric cruelty the next.

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. (Rather surreally, the first names on the script credits are Joel and Ethan Coen , but I can’t believe they would ever have sanctioned the you’re-gonna-be-somebody cliches that infest much of the early part of the film.) 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.

Unbroken film still.

As for Jolie, where does this leave her? Unbroken is undoubtedly being positioned as awards bait, and the goodwill she has inside and outside Hollywood may generate some Oscar nominations. But like her first film, the Bosnian war drama In the Land of Blood and Honey , there’s a reined-in, by-the-book quality to much of the film-making that doesn’t exactly add to its impact. Zamperini’s is an inspiring story all right, but in Jolie’s hands it’s all a bit “inspirational” – quote-unquote.

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‘unbroken’: film review.

Jack O'Connell is a pleasure to watch in Angelina Jolie's accomplished second outing as a director

By Todd McCarthy

Todd McCarthy

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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 cliches, this will be a tough film for some to take. But it also has strong appeal as an extraordinary survival story, and Laura Hillenbrand ‘s first-rate book, which inspired it, has not been on the best-seller lists for four years for nothing. A robust box-office future should be in store at home and abroad.

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Jolie’s spectacularly noncommercial first feature, the 2011 Bosnian war drama, In the Land of Blood and Honey , nonetheless proved that she could direct, an assertion more than confirmed by the vivid you-are-there opening of Unbroken . Without preamble, the film puts you on board a B-24, one of many sent out on a U.S. bombing raid of a Japanese-held island in the Pacific. There’s a real sense of the heaviness of the metal that somehow defies gravity as it grinds through the air, as well as an intense awareness of how all the men, from the guys in the cockpit, to the exposed gunners in their turrets, to the bombardier, Zamperini, depend upon each other to do their jobs. And, as the fast Zeroes approach and start firing on the Americans, the sound and speed of events are both pulse-quickening and sobering reminders of how arbitrary life and death are in combat.

The Bottom Line A well acted and visualized, if not fully rendered, telling of a fine book and a great life.

Read more   ‘Unbroken’ Unveiled: Angelina Jolie’s War Pic Finally Arrives

Speed, in fact, is the essence of Zamperini’s life, to which flashbacks to his youth in Torrance, Southern California, attest. A little Italian-speaking troublemaker during the Depression, young Louie (a likeable C.J. Valleroy ) is pushed by his older brother Pete (first John D’Leo , then Alex Russell ) to take up track, where he becomes such a sensation that he eventually makes the 1936 U.S. Olympic team. The scene of the American’s race there is exciting, but for some reason Jolie decided to forgo the “Hitler moment” that will be remembered by readers of the book, wherein the Fuhrer and Louie had a brief encounter. Perhaps the director decided this would be distracting, but it’s hard not to feel it as a missed opportunity, in that Louie was actually face-to-face with the man who would set off the firestorm that would soon engulf him and the rest of the world.

unbroken movie review rotten tomatoes

The brilliantly staged crippled landing of the initial bombing expedition spookily foreshadows a second flight, a search for lost fliers in a patched together plane that, in a harrowing scene, makes a crash landing and breaks up in the middle of the Pacific. The only survivors are Louie, his blond pilot buddy Phil ( Domhnall Gleeson ) and a new crewman they don’t really know, Mac ( Finn Wittrock ), who array themselves on two yellow life rafts and hope for the best.

The least one can say is that their experience is rather more mundane than, but perhaps equally perilous to, that of the solitary lad lost at sea in Life of Pi . As the merciless sun bears down, the men become crispy red and try to keep talking to maintain their alertness. Sickened by raw gull meat, they are sometimes lucky enough to grab the odd sea creature, prompting Phil to observe that the Japanese eat their fish raw. Sharks swim menacingly around the rafts, and what the men hope is a friendly plane passes by, only to reveal itself as Japanese when it strafes them. Mac expires, but Louie and Phil manage to last 47 days before being picked up by a Japanese warship.

As realistically as the men’s deprivations are depicted in the film, the half-hour the film spends at sea simply can’t render the sheer, slow agony the book so effectively conveys —the doubts, struggles, delirium, mood swings, surpassing hunger and thirst, and constant sense of peril; surprisingly, the narrative goes a little slack during this central stretch. Still, despite the apparent hopelessness of their situation, Louie’s survivor’s spirit emerges unmistakably here, a tenacious bond with life he won’t easily relinquish. Phil has religion to get him through, Louie merely the memory of his brother’s corny slogan, “A moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory.”

Read more   Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt Step Out for ‘Unbroken’ World Premiere in Sydney

More than one moment of pain awaits him, unfortunately, at his next destination, a jungle hellhole where he and Phil are stashed in separate cells barely big enough to contain them. Unlike Hillenbrand’s book, the film is unable to convey the staggering misery they were forced to endure in the form of dysentery and other diseases, infinitesimal rations, enforced silence and perpetual fear. The only sort of punishment Jolie seems confident to present cinematically is of the corporal persuasion, which is what Louie encounters repeatedly at the hands of new camp commandant Wantanabe ( Miyavi ), nicknamed “The Bird,” a malicious sadist who zeroes in on the athletic American from the outset and never lets up, striking him repeatedly with his wooden stick, forcing fellow inmates to hit him in the face and otherwise abusing him for reasons both recreational and deeply twisted.

The large cell block in the new camp allows its inmates to talk, share rumors and otherwise fraternize in a way that takes a lot of the edge off despite their jeopardy. Nothing we see conveys the grave threat the men were constantly under (more than a third of all Allied POWs under the Japanese died in detention, compared to only one per cent under the Germans), and the tension is further alleviated by an interesting but comparatively relaxed interlude in which Louie is urged to broadcast on the radio, which at least serves the purpose of letting America and his family know that he’s still alive.

Transferred to yet another camp, Louie is pushed to the virtual breaking point, leading to a climactic scene which, the way Jolie stages it, throws off unmistakable crucifixion reverberations. These don’t seem specifically warranted by any other internal dramatic factors even if they do, in fact, relate to the religious conversion Louie underwent postwar, but are detailed in the book but are only mentioned onscreen in a passing end title.

One other great moment from the book that, oddly, doesn’t turn up onscreen is the American prisoners noticing a spectacular sight in the far distance, which turns out to be one of the atomic bomb explosions that soon brought the war to an end. It’s hard to imagine this wouldn’t have made for an arresting, even surreal visual interlude.

Read more   New York Film Fest: ”71′ Offers Showcase for ‘Unbroken’ Star Jack O’Connell

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 —  Joel and Ethan Coen , Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson  — 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 and actors knew how to give supporting roles real character and sharp identities within a few seconds; such is emphatically not the case here.

Just recently recognized outside the U.K. due to his work in Starred Up and 300: Rise of An Empire , O’Connell is a pleasure to watch at all times here. He has energy, seems watchful and resourceful by instinct, is open to others and, crucially, seems like a man who, even when he doesn’t necessarily win, will nonetheless prevail. Always able to roll with the punches, physical and otherwise, he looks and sometimes behaves like a lively terrier.

The flashy role of the dreaded Bird is charismatically filled by Japanese singer Miyavi. Jolie could have done a bit more to build up the character’s mythology and the sense of dread he imparts. But the young actor, working mostly in English, has a beauty and good sense of timing that serve him well in this malevolent part.

The substantial aviation material looks quite real, no matter how effects-generated it may be, and Roger Deakins ‘ cinematography has a rugged elegance that, combined with the general play of light and dark, gives the film a richly satisfying palette. Jon Hutman ‘s production design and Louise Frogley ‘s costume designs display a proper sense of period verisimilitude as well as good, clean lines.

Production: Jolie Pas, 3 Arts Entertainment Cast: Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Miyavi, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock, Jai Courtney, John Magaro, Luke Treadway, Alex Russell, John D’Leo, Vincenzo Amato, Ross Anderson, C.J. Valleroy Director: Angelina Jolie Screenwriters: Joel Coen , Ethan Cohen, Richard LaGravenese, William Nicholson, based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand Producers: Angelina Jolie, Clayton Townsend, Matthew Baer, Erwin Stoff Executive producers: Mick Garris, Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni Director of photography: Roger Deakins Production designer: Jon Hutman Costume designer: Louise Frogley Editors: Tim Squyres, William Goldenberg Music: Alexandre Desplat Casting: Francine Maisler

PG-13 rating, 137 minutes

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Film Review: ‘Unbroken’

Jack O'Connell plays Olympic athlete and American war hero Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's well-mounted but underwhelming WWII drama.

By Justin Chang

Justin Chang

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Unbroken Movie Angelina Jolie

Impeccable craftsmanship and sober restraint have been brought to bear on “ Unbroken ,” Angelina Jolie ‘s beautifully wrought but cumulatively underwhelming portrait of Louis Zamperini , the Olympic runner-turned-U.S. Air Force bombardier who spent 47 days lost at sea and more than two years as a prisoner of the Japanese military during WWII. 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.

With a major awards push for Jolie and her topnotch collaborators — d.p. Roger Deakins, composer Alexandre Desplat and editors Tim Squyres and William Goldenberg not least among them — Universal should be able to court 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. (Zamperini died in July at the age of 97, due to complications from pneumonia.) After languishing in development for decades, the project finally took viable shape with the 2010 publication of Hillenbrand’s book, adapted here by the unlikely team of the Coen brothers (in their third scripting-for-hire gig, after 2012’s “Gambit” and 1985’s “Crimewave”), Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson.

Regardless of their individual contributions, none of the credited writers faced an easy or enviable task in fashioning a feature-length narrative out of their exhaustively researched source material (for which Hillenbrand interviewed Zamperini 75 times over the course of eight years). In runners’ parlance, “Unbroken” feels like a good, steady 10k where a marathon was arguably called for: For all its scenes of intense deprivation and extreme brutality, the film never quite manages, over the course of 137 carefully measured minutes, to reproduce the feeling of a sustained endurance test. Nor does it succeed in dramatizing the human need for faith and forgiveness, one of its more baldly stated themes, in more than perfunctory, platitudinous terms.

Of course, to expect any movie to place the viewer directly into Zamperini’s spiked cleats, or even begin to approximate the depth and horror of his wartime experiences, would hold it to an impossible standard. Yet the bar is set unreasonably high from the moment “Unbroken” introduces itself as “a true story,” a presumptuous choice of words (the “based on” qualifier is conspicuously absent) that the script never fully earns as it guides us through a series of conventional, connect-the-dots flashbacks. An exciting aerial-combat prologue finds O’Connell’s Louis  — or Louie, as he was more commonly known — flying a rickety B-24 bomber over the Pacific, where he and his comrades drop their payload on Japanese bases, shoot down Zero planes and take plenty of fire in return.

In short order we’re introduced to Louie’s younger self (a perfectly cast C.J. Valleroy), a restless, often bullied and misunderstood kid from Torrance, Calif., whose trouble-making antics give his Italian immigrant parents (Maddalena Ischiale, Vincenzo Amato) no shortage of grief. Yet his older brother Pete (played at different ages by John D’Leo and Alex Russell) soon recognizes that Louie’s talent of getting himself in and out of various scrapes has made him an uncommonly fast runner, and before long the kid is not just a high-school track star but a local legend, hailed in the papers as “the Tornado of Torrance.”

“A moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory,” Pete tells his brother, in one of those handy, endlessly recyclable nuggets of thematic wisdom that will resonate just a few short scenes later, when 19-year-old Louie makes it to the 1936 Berlin Olympics and places a not-too-shabby eighth in the 5,000-meter race. Although there’s a brief glimpse of Jesse Owens (Bangalie Keita) and swastika flags, foreshadowing events on the not-too-distant horizon, the film notably omits such juicy details as Louie’s brief handshake with Hitler, focusing instead on the lad’s quicksilver ability to defy the odds, to evince a sudden burst of speed or stamina when it counts most — whether that means overtaking his more seasoned opponents on the track, or surviving the horrific ordeal that awaits him on May 27, 1943.

On that day, a B-24 crashes into the Pacific, killing eight men aboard and leaving Louie stranded at sea with his pilot, Capt. Russell Alan “Phil” Phillips (Domhnall Gleeson), and tail gunner, Sgt. Francis “Mac” McNamara (Finn Wittrock). Bobbing along in two life rafts with dwindling rations, fending off attacks by neighboring sharks and Japanese bombers (at one point simultaneously), the three men will last more than a month before Mac succumbs, leaving Phil and Louie to drift, sun-scorched and emaciated, for another 15 days or so. Yet the film’s attempts to convey the slow, arduous passage of time feel rushed and noncommittal, effectively cherry-picking the book’s more memorable nautical setpieces and adding a few temporal markers (“Day 18,” etc.), quick visual dissolves and the stately swells of Desplat’s score. Following a recent wave of intensely immersive survival stories (“All Is Lost” makes a particularly instructive comparison), “Unbroken’s” streamlined, checklist-style approach seems all the more rote and obligatory.

The sense that we’re getting the slightly watered-down version persists when Louie and Phil fall into Japanese hands and are sent to Omori, a POW camp in Tokyo. The two friends are forcibly separated, and for the film’s remaining hour or so, Louie will have a far less welcome companion in the form of Mutsuhiro Watanabe (Miyavi), aka “the Bird,” a terrifyingly sadistic Japanese army sergeant who immediately takes a special interest in this quietly defiant American prisoner, in whom he sees a flickering shadow of his own ferocious life force. Yet Watanabe’s affection manifests itself in the most brutal possible way, as he beats his favorite mercilessly with a kendo stick for minor or nonexistent infractions (the camera rarely flinches even when our hero does), at one point even forcing the other prisoners to line up and punch Louie in the face for no reason, one by one.

Jolie previously examined the dehumanization of war in her little-seen 2011 directing debut, “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” a muddled but provocative drama set in 1990s Bosnia-Herzegovina. “Unbroken” serves up a similarly relentless catalog of wartime woes — filthy conditions, crippling thirst and hunger, back-breaking labor, nonstop verbal and physical abuse, nasty injuries, ritualized humiliations, and the hopeless knowledge that an Allied victory will only bring about the prisoners’ execution. Yet there’s something unmistakably soft-edged, if not sanitized, about these PG-13 horrors, the accrual of which produces a curious sort of paradox by film’s end: What we’ve seen is at once plenty grueling and nowhere near grueling enough, on the basis of what Zamperini really went through. (“Where’re the maggots? Where’s the dysentery?” my screening companion whispered over the closing credits, unsatisfied by a relatively tasteful scene of Louie and his fellow inmates disposing of their presumably disease-ridden excrement.)

Any dramatic account of real-life events must of course filter and condense, yet several omissions in “Unbroken” are especially telling: We’re denied any real sense of the young Louie’s insatiable appetite for mischief; nor do we see him and his comrades conversing in secret code, or paying hilariously flatulent tribute to Japan’s Emperor Hirohito, or conceiving a desperate plot to murder Watanabe — or, barring that, inducing a crippling bout of diarrhea that puts the miserable sergeant out of commission for more than a week. Jolie sensitively conveys the solemn intimacy and tender camaraderie that arise among men at war, but she never captures these soldiers in all their bawdy, rough-and-tumble vigor and rebellious energy; nor does she evoke the fire in Zamperini’s belly that made him not just a survivor but a natural-born leader, his instincts and intellect as nimble as his feet.

To its credit, the movie doesn’t shy away from showing Louie praying his way through much of his ordeal, at one point promising to dedicate his life to God in the unlikely event that he survived. (He did, and he did.) Indeed, “Unbroken” is not above turning its subject into a sort of 20th-century Christ figure, namely when the Bird forces Louie to lift a heavy beam over his shoulders and hold the position for what feels like hours on end. Yet the dramatic seeds that are planted here never fully take root: Zamperini’s post-rescue conversion and his subsequent attempts at a moral reckoning with his captors are dispensed with in the closing titles, leaving you blinking at the unrealized potential of a longer, bolder and more spiritually inquisitive movie than this one.

Where Jolie’s restraint pays off is in her keenly concentrated focus on Louie’s interior journey; there is a brief cutaway to the distressed Zamperini family at a logical point in the narrative, but little in the way of contextualizing dates and details, and only the barest of allusions to the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as the war draws to a close. All in all, given its subject, “Unbroken” is a remarkably quiet picture; the men’s dialogue exchanges tend toward the terse and sardonic, while the silences are often freighted with tension and anxiety, and Jolie wisely lets much of the drama play out in her actors’ unfailingly eloquent faces.

It’s been a while since a young male performer seized the screen with such startling force as O’Connell, whom festival and arthouse audiences may know from his excellent performances in the recent “Starred Up” and the forthcoming “’71.” The conception of his character here may leave something to be desired, but O’Connell’s acting has rarely been more soulful or delicate: Once more he has placed his extraordinary physicality in service of an intensely demanding role, requiring him to run like the wind, stand as still as a stone and undergo any number of weight fluctuations in between. Yet it’s also a performance built from innumerable fine-grained details — a suddenly clenched posture or a quickly downturned glance, to name two of Louie’s natural responses whenever the Bird appears.

Miyavi, a Japanese singer-songwriter making his bigscreen debut, was a smartly counterintuitive choice for the role, and if he never quite nails the perverse sexual rapture that Watanabe derives from the abuse he dishes out, the actor more than upholds his half of the film’s sinister psychological duet. (He also may help stir his fans’ interest in a picture whose matter-of-fact treatment of Japanese brutality will require especially careful handling in Asian markets.) Gleeson, going blond for a change, is excellent as the faithful friend who serves as an occasional spiritual guide to Louie; of the other soldier roles, Garrett Hedlund has the most substantial screen time as Louie’s ally Cmdr. John Fitzgerald.

Whether shooting on land, in air or at sea (with Australian locations ably standing in for all three), Deakins delivers unsurprisingly beautiful images of exceptional richness and clarity. The visuals achieve a particularly vivid sense of place in production designer Jon Hutman’s meticulous re-creations of Omori and Naoetsu, the camp to which Zamperini was transferred in March 1945; no less impressive is the fluidity of the camerawork in and around the tight interiors of the B-24s, enhanced considerably by the input of adviser Bob Livingstone. Even when the characters’ faces and bodies are smudged with blood, mud, soot and worse, the technical package is never short of immaculate.

Reviewed at Writers Guild Theater, Beverly Hills, Nov. 30, 2014. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 137 MIN.

  • Production: A Universal release presented with Legendary Pictures of a Jolie Pas, 3 Arts Entertainment production. Produced by Angelina Jolie, Clayton Townsend, Matthew Baer, Erwin Stoff. Executive producers, Mick Garris, Thomas Tull, Jon Jashni. Co-producers, Michael Vieira, Holly Goline-Sadowski, Joseph Reidy.
  • Crew: Directed by Angelina Jolie. Screenplay, Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, William Nicholson, based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand. Camera (color, Alexa digital, widescreen), Roger Deakins; editors, Tim Squyres, William Goldenberg; music, Alexandre Desplat; production designer, Jon Hutman; supervising art director, Charlie Revai; art directors, Bill Booth, Jacinta Leong; set decorator, Lisa Thompson; set designers, Nicholas Dare, Andrew Kattie, Ross Perkin; costume designer, Louise Frogley; sound, David Lee; supervising sound editors, Andrew DeCristofaro, Becky Sullivan; sound designers, Eric A. Norris, Jay Wilkinson; re-recording mixers, Frank A. Montano, Jon Taylor; special effects supervisor, Brian Cox; visual effects supervisor, Bill George; visual effects producer, Steve Gaub; visual effects, Industrial Light & Magic, Animal Logic, Lola VFX; stunt coordinator, Glenn Boswell; assistant director, Joseph Reidy; casting, Francine Maisler.
  • With: Jack O'Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Miyavi, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock, Jai Courtney, John Magaro, Luke Treadaway, Alex Russell, John D'Leo, Vincenzo Amato, Ross Anderson, C.J. Valleroy, Maddalena Ischiale. (English, Japanese, Italian dialogue)

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Vague Visages

Movies, tv & music • independent film criticism • soundtrack guides • forming the future • est. 2014, an unfortunate case of severe holiday melodrama: angelina jolie’s ‘unbroken’.

Unbroken Movie Review - 2014 Angelina Jolie Film

I’ve been curious why Unbroken hasn’t been making noise thus far during awards season. Laura Hillenbrand’s astonishing biography on Louis Zamperini provided several months of hype, but Angelina Jolie’s film adaptation currently boasts a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The clear blue skies of the film’s opening scene caught my attention at last night’s Christmas Night viewing, along with this cringe-worthy line: “I’m going to light it up like Christmas!” Yep, Unbroken is  that kind of holiday film.

There’s nothing terribly wrong with Unbroken aside from the severely melodramatic supporting performances . While I was expecting a steady dose of motivational and cleverly-placed lines, I wasn’t quite prepared for young Louis Zamperini exclaiming, “I’m nothing. Let me be nothing.” It’s this type of melodrama that has one person sobbing and another rolling their eyes. Cutesy more than poignant, Jolie’s direction allows for a collective holding of hands as she presses hard on all the typical Holiday buttons.

If one doesn’t know the story by now, the Italian-American Zamperini competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, survived 45 days at sea during World War II and was later tormented by a Japanese officer known as “The Bird.” It’s unfathomable what Zamperini experienced, and newcomer Jack O’Connell plays him with conviction and grit. He brought the goods earlier this year in Starred Up and raised his game for Unbroken, but I can’t say the same for Garrett Hedlund (Fitzgerald) and Takamasa Ishihara (Watanabe aka “The Bird).

Read More at VV — The Ontology of ‘Ferroequinology’

Unbroken Movie Review - 2014 Angelina Jolie Film

First of all, the casting of Hedlund bothers me more than his actual performance. I’m guessing the Coen Brothers might be responsible given they co-wrote the screenplay and worked with him on Inside Llewyn Davis , but when will Hedlund drop the James Dean/Beat Poet persona? We’ve seen it over and over the last couple years, and directors seem to be exploiting his voice rather than his acting talent. At one point in Unbroken, Hedlund’s Fitzgerald delivers a speech — an actual speech in front of a crowd — with an overt growl that sounds more like Abraham Lincoln (at least what’s been documented) than a weary prisoner . We know Hedlund boasts a unique voice… give us something more.

As far as Ishihara, his performance resembles a movie “baddie” rather than a frightening historical figure. While O’Connell digs deep as Zamperini, Ishihara seems acutely aware of the camera. But even if the portrayal was spot on, the dialogue afforded to Ishihara in his final scene will have some viewers crying from laughter. You’ll know it when you see it. It’s a typical Hollywood move: repetitive dialogue connecting with an already familiar line, a heavy-handed score and pure melodrama. It might have worked for a Broadway play, but it doesn’t work for a feature film. The scene ultimately highlights the idea of “The Bird” more than O’Connell’s outstanding performance.

Read More at VV — Soundtracks of Cinema: ‘The Man from Toronto’

Unbroken Movie Review - 2014 Angelina Jolie Film

Jolie didn’t make a bad movie, and  Unbroken might have even won Best Picture 20 years ago, but you can’t throw the star under the bus — especially in a biopic — and let the antagonist destroy one of the most powerful scenes.

Q.V. Hough ( @QVHough ) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.

Categories: 2010s , 2014 Film Essays , 2014 Film Reviews , Action , Biography , Drama , Film Essays , Film Reviews

Tagged as: Action , Angelina Jolie , Biography , Drama , Q.V. Hough , Unbroken

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By Peter Travers

Peter Travers

This passion project for Angelina Jolie shines in every frame with her abiding love for Louis Zamperini and his courage under fire. Zamperini died of pneumonia in July, at 97, but not before Jolie showed him a rough cut of the film on her laptop. In case you never read Unbroken, Seabiscuit author Lauren Hillenbrand’s 2010 bestseller about Louis’ life, here’s a quick rundown: Raised in Torrance, California, the son of Italian immigrants, Louis was a bad boy destined for jail or worse until his older brother turned him on to running. He was good at it, competing in track at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin (Hitler noticed him). During World War II, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. When his B-24 went down in the Pacific, Louis survived on a life raft for a scarifying 47 days until he and others were captured by the Japanese, then starved and tortured for two years in a POW camp.

I could go on, as the book does, describing Louis’ PTSD and alcoholism until Billy Graham helped him find God. But Jolie wisely ends her film with the war, which still leaves enough material to fill a miniseries or two. Hillenbrand’s critics accuse her of riding the surface of Louis’ blatantly inspirational tale. Jolie, working from a script polished by no less than the Coen brothers, needed to dig deeper, meaning she had to find the right actor to play Louis. Her choice, Jack O’Connell, justifies her faith. O’Connell ( Starred Up ) is a British dynamo with a true actor’s instinct for getting inside a character’s head. On the raft with fellow airmen Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) and Mac (Finn Wittrock), it’s Louis who musters a glimmer of hope while sharks circle as relentlessly as despair. O’Connell makes us see how hard-won that hope is.

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In only her second feature as director, following 2011’s Bosnian drama In the Land of Blood and Honey , Jolie shows remarkable confidence and compassion. She excels in the vicious camp scenes (PG-13 pushed to the limit), in which Louis meets Watanabe, a.k.a. the Bird, a sadist guard whose love/hate for the Olympic athlete is chillingly pervy. Japanese rock star Miyavi (born Takamasa Ishihara) plays his first screen role with mesmeric brilliance, making the Bird’s physical elegance a striking contrast to the savagery of his inhuman punishment.

Unbroken is beautifully crafted even in its brutality. A sequence near war’s end, when Louis and the POWs are herded to a river expecting to be murdered en masse, is memory-scarring. Jolie has an army of craftsmen in her corner, notably camera poet Roger Deakins ( No Country for Old Men ). But it’s her vision that gives Unbroken a spirit that soars. In honoring Louis’ endurance, she does herself proud.

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Unbroken parents guide

Unbroken Parent Guide

This powerful tale of tenacity and eternal optimism is worth seeing. there doesn't seem to be anything more inspirational than a human spirit that refused to be broken..

This bio-drama tells the story of Louis Zamperini (played by Jack O'Connell) who was an Olympic runner before he entered World War II where his ability to be a true champion is challenged in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.

Release date December 25, 2014

Run Time: 138 minutes

Official Movie Site

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The guide to our grades, parent movie review by kerry bennett.

Laura Hillenbrand’s book Unbroken has spent more than 180 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller list. At least 15 of those weeks it sat comfortably in the number one spot. Now the story of Louis Zamperini comes to the big screen under the direction of Angelina Jolie.

The young Louis (C.J. Valleroy), son of Italian immigrants, spends much of his childhood running into trouble with the police until his brother Pete (John D’Leo) convinces him to try out for the school track team. Finally with something worthwhile to run for, Louis (Jack O’Connell) becomes an athletic star in Torrance, California where his family lives. And then in 1936, he is named the youngest American qualifier for the 5000-meter race at the Summer Olympics in Berlin.

That Louis survives is incredible. That he goes on to forgive is almost unbelievable.

Yet many readers inspired by Hillenbrand’s book may be disappointed by the film’s depiction of Louis’ faith, or in this case, the lack of a depiction of his faith. As a child, Louis sits through a pulpit-thumping sermon on loving your enemies. And one of Louis’ fellow crewmen offers a prayer of gratitude after they make a miraculous landing with a battered plane. Louis even pleads for God to save them during a horrendous storm at sea. But the movie stops short of showing the prayers and promises to God that helped this captive endure his time on the raft and in the camps.

Still this powerful tale of tenacity and eternal optimism is worth seeing, at least for older audiences who can tolerate the abuse this soldier is subjected to on a regular basis. Along with some warfare and the suffering experienced on the raft, are lengthy portrayals of his plight as a prisoner. During these Mutsuhiro is depicted as something akin to a savage schoolyard bully. Disappointed by his own inability to rise in the ranks of leadership, he takes pleasure in torturing his captives with brutal beatings and cruel treatment. (In one scene, Louis is forced to hold a heavy beam over his head for an extended period of time.)

Despite the on-going setbacks in his life and the horrific treatment during his internment in Japan, Louis remains hopeful. And there doesn’t seem to be anything more resilient or inspirational than a human spirit that refuses to be broken.

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Unbroken rating & content info.

Why is Unbroken rated PG-13? Unbroken is rated PG-13 by the MPAA for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language.

Violence: Planes drop bombs on a city. Airplanes engage in battles. Bloody injuries are shown along with the death of some characters. A young boy is attacked and beaten. A youth steals items and then outruns the police. A child is shown getting the strap from his father. A crew makes a dangerous crash landing. Later another plane crashes into the ocean killing most of the crew. Men catch and cut open a bird and a fish. Characters are attacked by sharks, shot at by an enemy plane and subjected to dehydration and starvation. Enemy soldiers capture men. The sounds of a beating are heard. Characters are imprisoned, beaten with clubs, forced to stand in the cold, hit over the head repeatedly and forced to take off their clothes. Some characters endure broken bones. Soldiers are lined up and forced to hit another man in the head. Dead bodies and skulls are seen. A man falls to his death. A man is forced to hold a beam over his head. Soldiers are subjected to public humiliation and threats. Other disturbing scenes of torture and violence are seen.

Sexual Content: A boy positions himself under the stairs so he can look up girls’ skirts. Some crude sexual comments and references are made. Male buttock nudity is seen in a non-sexual setting when men are forced to undress by their prison guards. Brief scenes of embracing and kissing are shown.

Language: The script contains scatological slang, cursing, terms of Deity, vulgarities and some ethno-cultural slurs.

Alcohol / Drug Use :A young teen drinks alcohol. Numerous adults drink and smoke.

Page last updated July 17, 2017

Unbroken Parents' Guide

More About the Movie:

Learn more about the real Louis Zamperini . This movie is based on his biography , written by Laura Hillenbrand .

From the Studio:

Academy Award winner Angelina Jolie directs and produces Unbroken, an epic drama that follows the incredible life of Olympian and war hero Louis “Louie” Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) who, along with two other crewmen, survived in a raft for 47 days after a near-fatal plane crash in WWII-only to be caught by the Japanese Navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp. - Universal Pictures

Talk about the movie with your family…

What challenges did new immigrants often face when they moved to America? What impression did Louis’ family make on the community where the lived? How does Louis’ self-image affect his outlook on life?

One soldier says that the best revenge they can exact on their captors is to make it to the end of the war alive. How did these captives work together to help and encourage one another? How did the Japanese try to break the prisoners’ unity?

Events in Louis’ post-war life are shown on slides at the end of the movie. How did his faith in God affect his ability to overcome his post-traumatic stress from the war? Why do you think he chose to forgive his captors? How do you think they felt when Louis approached them? What characteristics or qualities helped Louis endure his time on the raft and in prison?

The most recent home video release of Unbroken movie is March 24, 2015. Here are some details…

Home Video Notes: Unbroken Release Date: 24 March 2015 Unbroken releases to home video (Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy) with the following special features: - Inside Unbroken - The Real Louis Zamperini - Cast and Crew Concert Featuring Miyavi - Prison Camp Theater: Cinderella - Louis’ Path to Forgiveness

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The Railway Man tells the true story of another prisoner of war held by the Japanese in WWII. Other movies depicting the Japanese involvement with the war include Bridge on the River Kwai , Emperor and Tora! Tora! Tora!

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  • Review: Angelina Jolie’s <i>Unbroken</i> Is Grand, But Not Quite Enthralling

Review: Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken Is Grand, But Not Quite Enthralling

A ll year long, this was the unseen movie with the biggest promise — the one sure to lock up critics’ awards and Oscar shortlist citations. As other films premiered at festivals in late summer and early fall, Unbroken held out the tantalizing inevitability of gravity and grandeur: the true tale of Louis Zamperini, Olympic runner and war survivor, directed by Angelina Jolie.

For many reviewers, the build-up led to a big breakdown when they finally saw it. Unbroken was just… a movie . So far it has snagged no top prizes from the critics’ groups, and was shut out of the Golden Globe nominations — though its star, Jack O’Connell, took Best Newcomer awards from the New York Film Critics Online and the National Board of Review. Many reviewers compared the movie unfavorably with the Laura Hillenbrand best-seller on which it was based. And some of the early notices were on the peckish side. “An interminable, redundant, unnecessary epic,” wrote The New Yorker’ s David Denby, “devoted to suffering, suffering, suffering.” Real moviegoers get to choose their own epithets starting Christmas Day, when the movie opens.

So where does Unbroken fit on the spectrum of anticipation and disillusion? I’d say, closer to the top. It’s a big, confident film that tries to tell an impossibly broad, anecdotal story — for Zamperini, who died in July at 97, had already lived three lives before he was 30. This American son of Italian immigrants finished eighth in the 5,000-meter race at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (Hitler dropped by to congratulate him); survived the crash of his B-24 as a bombardier in the Pacific War and spent 47 days near starvation on a life raft; was captured by the Japanese, sent to a prison camp and for two years suffered the personal torture of the sadist in charge. He came home, fell into alcoholism, got born again with the encouragement of Billy Graham and spent the rest of his life proselytizing. If Peter Jackson had taken on the project, Unbroken would have spanned nine installments.

Jolie’s version, from an uncharacteristically straightforward script by Joel and Ethan Coen , takes Zamperini through the end of World War II,. We get the Olympics, the raft ordeal and the prison camp — in movie terms, Chariots of Fire plus Life of Pi plus The Bridge on the River Kwai . Also, there’s a little backstory of his youth in Torrance, Cal., where Louie deflected bullies’ taunting by focusing on his track skills. In these early scenes he is prodded toward respectability and greatness by his brother Pete (Alex Russell) with inspirational bromides like, “If you can take it, you can make it” and, “A moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory” — clichés that will become life-saving mantras in Louie’s times of unbearable stress.

Jolie begins with a superbly choreographed B-24 raid over the Pacific — pellucid morning sky, heavenly choir, the ack-ack of enemy fire — with Louie as the bombardier. Having returned to base, landing on a flat tire, he and his men are given an old rat trap of a warplane. Says one of his pals: “This is like sittin’ in the living room tryin’ to fly my house.” On May 27, 1943, that plane got shot down, with only three survivors: Louie, Capt. “Phil” Phillips (Domhnall Gleeson) and tail gunner “Mac” McNamara (Finn Wittrock). On their raft they have few supplies and less hope, living off shark meat and Louie’s indomitable will.

The movie’s third and longest section is in the Omori POW camp outside Tokyo, where Louie attracts the depraved attention of Sgt. Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara, the singer known as Miyavi, in his first movie role). A preening dandy, Watanabe has enough command of English to hurt Louie with words as well as his riding crop. He issues contradictory commands — “Look at me!” “Don’t look at me!” — each earning a whack on Louie’s legs or torso. Like many criminal sadists, he blames his victim for all malevolence: “Why do you let me hit you?” And whack again.

A dominatrix surrounded by helpless, starving men, Watanabe could be a metaphor for the Japanese camp officials and their brutality (much more than that of their German counterparts) toward the soldier-prisoners in their charge. Jolie doesn’t exploit the cruelty for shock value; her approach is cinematically fastidious. And Miyavi’s boldly alluring performance turns Watanabe into a fascinating example of the sort of sado-monster who can flourish in war or peace.

Out of one camp and, in early 1945, into another, Louie finds his old psycho nemesis awaiting him. Watanabe has dreamed up a new game: Louis must hold a heavy board on his shoulders for hours, with his guards told: “If he drops it, shoot him.” This scene — it’s in all the TV spots for Unbroken — is Louie’s public Calvary. And unlike Jesus, he survives it.

If the Unbroken needle stops at Impressive and doesn’t quite rise to Enthralling, it’s because Jolie stints on exploring the doubts that tortured Louis nearly as much as Watanabe’s punishments did, and whose details so enriched Hillenbrand’s biography. Even Jesus in his final hours felt stung by the betrayal of his friends and his Father. Jolie’s Louis is almost more Christlike than Christ. He remains a man of steel, reducing the stakes from “Will he crack?” to “How will he endure?” Since we know Louis outlived his internment, the movie relinquishes some of its dramatic tension.

So the movie Louis is a traditional movie hero, unwavering in his belief: “We win by surviving.” But he’s a hero who harbors not vengeance but forgiveness. The real Zamperini returned to Japan after the war to visit his captors and forgive them. Only Watanabe refused a meeting.

This decathlon of pain demands an actor who can portray not just the horror of Louis’s plight but his supernal will to overcome it. O’Connell, the 24-year-old Anglo-Irishman who made a splash as the teenager in prison with his even more violent dad in Starred Up , is up to the challenge of inhabiting Louis over a decade of his young manhood — 10 years that seemed like a lifetime and death-time. Jolie has made a grand, solid movie of the Zamperini story, but O’Connell is the part of Unbroken that was truly worth the wait.

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Movie Review: ‘Unbroken’

The times critic manohla dargis reviews “unbroken.”.

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By Manohla Dargis

  • Dec. 24, 2014

Angelina Jolie opens “Unbroken” with a shot of a celestial blue sky that soon darkens with a battle scene so tense and fluidly choreographed that you quickly sense that, as a director, she leans closer to hell than heaven. She has given herself plenty to work with: The movie takes a slice out of the life of Louis Zamperini, the Olympic runner turned World War II bombardier who, after surviving a plane crash and 47 days adrift on the Pacific, was fished out of the water by a Japanese patrol boat and then imprisoned in camps where he was brutalized for years. His is one of those stories that has come to define the Greatest Generation.

That story, in its human reach and cosmic scale, in its different permutations and theaters of war, has been recounted in memoirs, novels, fiction films and all too painfully true documentaries. It emerges again in Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 best seller, “ Unbroken : A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption,” which is the basis for the movie. With some narrative rejigging, a lot of compression and one significant exception, Ms. Jolie follows the lead of the book, which focuses on the first 25 years or so of Mr. Zamperini’s life. She also sweeps through his early education as a peewee gangster, truculent son of Italian immigrants and accidental athlete who discovers he can run like the wind, but she gets to the war sooner.

unbroken movie review rotten tomatoes

Ms. Jolie is a fast worker. After her inaugural nod at the wide blue yonder, she thrusts you inside the claustrophobic confines of a B-24 bomber that’s soon under Japanese attack. There, the adult Louie, as he was called, bounces through the plane while bullets begin shredding its exterior and soon its occupants, the fusillade opening little circles of light in the hull as effortlessly as a pencil punches holes in paper. It’s a shrewd opener, because it immediately puts you on notice in regard to the story’s life-and-death stakes and draws you close to Louie (the appealing Jack O’Connell). Mr. Zamperini was a distance runner , but here he’s a sprinter whose quicksilver movements — he crouches and scuttles while tending the wounded plane and men — suck you in with gravitational force.

Louie’s life moves so rapidly here that about 30 minutes after the movie’s start, he’s running laps at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. There, he catches a glimpse of Jesse Owens and gawps at the cheering crowds and bloated Nazi spectacle, which Ms. Jolie conveys with digital effects and a touch of Leni Riefenstahl pomp-and-creepiness. Then Louie’s off to the races, and we’re off to something of a narrative cheat. He scores mightily on the track — with a rabbity final sprint — but Ms. Jolie pumps the inspirational uplift so high that with all the soaring music, swirling camerawork, excited commentary and slow-motion shots of Louie’s straining and gasping you may not realize he didn’t win any Olympic medals.

That Mr. Zamperini didn’t win that day doesn’t lessen his accomplishments on or off the track, of course, or make his story any less touching. Being an Olympian is a triumph in and of itself, yet that truism doesn’t seem to have been grand enough for Ms. Jolie’s purposes. The Olympic interlude is sandwiched between some wartime scenes, right after the plane that Louie’s on starts to malfunction and just before it falls into the Pacific. The placement of his Olympic experience suggests that Louie’s life is flashing before him or that he’s drawing strength from a memory. But the triumphalism of the race is so excessive that it competes with, rather than complements, the war scenes and ends up being another clip in what increasingly will feel like one man’s extended highlight reel.

It took four marquee writers — Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson — to wrestle Ms. Hillenbrand’s many pages into a movie, which clocks in at 2 hours 17 minutes. That’s scarcely enough time for any life, but it’s impossible when each chapter in that life could itself be a book (including an underplayed epiphany), and the strain shows, especially in the camp sequences. Ms. Jolie does fine work throughout, including on the raft where, after the crash, Louie and two others, Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) and Mac (Finn Wittrock), battle dehydration, starvation and sharks, including one that the men, in a jolting scene, wrestle onboard and devour. Like a lot of actors turned directors, she’s good with the performers, even when platitudes gush from their mouths along with the blood.

That blood gushes and splatters, mostly discreetly, at times with misplaced tastefulness, as Louie falls and rises in spirit and body. Ms. Jolie’s tendency to go David Lean with this material works against her in the camp sequences, because what you want to know isn’t what the prisoners looked like standing in formation in long shot but what they thought and did to survive. What the movie ends up in desperate need of is a sense of life made real and palpable through dreadful, transporting details, not a life embalmed in hagiographic awe. You can find that movie here, at times, tucked amid the crane shots and angelic singing, though mostly in the perverse intimacy that emerges between Louie and the sadistic officer, Watanabe (Miyavi), and shows just how personal war can really be.

“Unbroken” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). War violence and crimes.

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UNBROKEN Review

Read Matt's Unbroken review; Angelina Jolie's film stars Jack O'Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Miyavi, Alex Russell, Finn Wittrock, and Garrett Hedlund.

Part of our admiration for athletes is we want to see their physical greatness as greatness of character.  We apply these same expectations to actors and musicians as well, but we see in them artistic expression rather than an objective metric.  In an athlete, we see the power of the human body and therefore someone who is able to push their physicality to extraordinarily levels must also be an extraordinary person overall.  It's why we're shocked and disappointed that our sports idols can sometimes be scumbags—we expected more from healthy people who are really good at a game.  Angelina Jolie 's Unbroken labors under the impression that the measure of a man is in physical ability and little else.  She has made a movie that is essentially torture porn but coated it in the veneer of respectability and triumph.

Following a rebellious childhood, Louis Zamperini ( Jack O'Connell ) works hard to become an Olympian runner, and he races in the 1936 Olympics.  His brother Pete ( Alex Russell ) teaches him the credo "If you can take it, you can make it," which Zamperini follows through his harrowing travails in World War II when his plane crashes and he's stranded at sea for 47 days.  Zamperini's life becomes worse when he's "rescued" by the Japanese navy and thrown into a POW camp run by the cruel, twisted Mutsushiro "The Bird" Watanabe ( Miyavi ), who beats the prisoners mercilessly.

To be clear: nothing I write here is to dismiss or diminish Zamperini's incredible story.  My criticisms refer to the depiction of that story and where Jolie put her focus.  She reduces the sum total of Zamperini's accomplishments to positivity and physical endurance.

When Zamperini is at sea with fellow soldiers Russell Allen "Phil" Phillips ( Domhnall Gleeson ) and Francis "Mac" McNamara ( Finn Wittrock ), it's not about three guys working together to survive.  It's about Zamperini and two other guys who also survived the plane crash, and how he did everything in his power to keep them alive.  Sure, he has his moments of sadness and doubt, but when spirits are low, Good ol' "Zamp" is there to talk about his mothers' cooking and cheer everyone up.  This may have happened, but it doesn't feel real despite O'Connell's strong performance.  His actions feel like saintly endeavors.

But here's the thing about saints: they're boring .  Unless I'm watching a story designed for children, I don't want to see someone who is perfect in every way.  There's nothing wrong with competence or being good-hearted.  But what's admirable about characters is how they overcome personal shortcomings.  That's how we find a way to relate to them even if we don't match up with the specifics.  Unbroken contains its story to a guy who was inoffensively rebellious as a child (He secretly drank and leered at women! Scandalous!), and then never did anything wrong ever again because he worked hard at running.

Where Unbroken goes from a slightly mawkish survival tale to outright offensive is when Zamperini lands in the POW camp.  At sea, Zamperini must show that he's not only able to endure, but he's also resourceful.  In the POW camp, he's tormented by Watanabe from day one.  Watanabe breaks Zamperini's nose, beats him with a stick, commands the other prisoners to punch Zamperini in the face, and then has him lift a heavy wooden beam under the threat of being shot if he drops it.

Watching Zamperini and other prisoners suffer physical torment is the second half of the film, and to Jolie, what makes Zamperini great isn't a test of moral decisions or tough choices aside from some brief temptations.  Zamperini's struggle and by proxy the war is a matter of physical strength.  "If you can take it, you can make it," Zamperini tells one of his fellow prisoners.  That's a fine motivator when it comes to training, but it's absurd when applied to war.  War is horrific, cruel, and indifferent.  Plenty of strong men died in World War II.  The notion that only the strong survive is ridiculous, dismissive, and disgustingly reductive.

The most interesting part of Zamperini's story comes from two sentences in the end credits that mentioned how he worked through severe post-traumatic stress, kept his promise to serve God, and then tried to forgive his captors.  That's an emotional journey I want to see.  In our daily lives, forgiveness is so difficult, and he went to personally forgive the people who tried to kill him.  That's remarkable, and not a second of it is depicted on screen.  Jolie would prefer we spend more time watching Miyavi swing a stick at the ground with the sound effect of someone crying out in pain.

Unbroken labors under the impression that it's uplifting when really it's just sadism coated in an awards-friendly sheen.  Roger Deakins cinematography is gorgeous, but given the story Jolie is telling, it shouldn't be.  There shouldn't be tranquil shots of people dying of thirst in their tiny raft; there shouldn't be nicely framed wide shots of prisoners being forced to exercise in the cold.  The fact that the real Louis Zamperini survived the war was a triumph for him, his family, and the life he chose to lead following the suffering he endured.  Unbroken is a failure that mistakes physical strength for the strength of the human spirit.

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Deleted Scenes

Dad comes home, light & darkness, victory kiss, bird plays “sakura sakura” on shamisen, bird plays “cherry blossom song” on shamisen, bird hits fitzgerald, louie taken to barracks after beating, family photo, what a deal, inside unbroken, fifty years in the making, the fight of a storyteller, the hardiest generation, featurettes, the real louis zamperini, cast & crew concert featuring miyavi, prison camp theater: cinderella, louis' path to forgiveness, theatrical trailer #1, theatrical trailer #2, rotten tomatoes® score.

“Unbroken” is a competent and well-intentioned movie centered around an inspiring true story.

The film has been carefully constructed into a blind adoration instead of a worthy portrait; it captures events, but not people, not gradations.

"Jolie didn't make a bad movie, and 'Unbroken' might have even won Best Picture 20 years ago, but you can't throw the star under the bus -- especially in a biopic -- and let the antagonist destroy one of the most powerful scenes."

There's a strength to be found in witnessing this portion of the Louis Zamperini story, no matter how ugly it is and how hard it is to watch.

Zamperini's story in Unbroken can be an inspiration to think about forgiveness.

This is a harrowing and haunting film that leaves you feeling grateful to be alive.

As well intentioned - and patriotic and high minded and valorous - as Jolie's presentation of the film is, it falls short on this one, very major, aspect of the story.

The entertainment value of nonstop, brutal punishment with little hope of personal retribution or adventuresome escape is limited at best.

An incredible story of survival and human endurance told in bland, flat strokes.

Once the indomitable spirit of the man is revealed, the movie finds a sturdy, stirring tone which carries it well through some very tough going.

Additional Info

  • Genre : Drama
  • Release Date : December 25, 2014
  • Languages : English, Spanish
  • Captions : English
  • Audio Format : 5.1

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COMMENTS

  1. Unbroken

    Movie Info. As a boy, Louis "Louie" Zamperini is always in trouble, but with the help of his older brother, he turns his life around and channels his energy into running, later qualifying for the ...

  2. Unbroken movie review & film summary (2014)

    Advertisement. "Unbroken" opens with a powerfully staged and shot sequence of aerial combat that surprisingly defines the film's strengths and weaknesses over the next two-plus hours. The attention to detail as Zamperini (Jack O'Connell), Russell 'Phil' Phillips ( Domhnall Gleeson) and Hugh 'Cup' Cuppernell (Jai Courtney) spin ...

  3. Unbroken Movie Review

    What you will—and won't—find in this movie. Positive Messages. The main character's intense determination helps h. Positive Role Models. Zamperini managed to survive 47 days stranded at s. Violence & Scariness. Plenty of war-related violence. Early scenes show. Sex, Romance & Nudity Not present.

  4. Unbroken

    Rotten Tomatoes, home of the Tomatometer, is the most trusted measurement of quality for Movies & TV. The definitive site for Reviews, Trailers, Showtimes, and Tickets

  5. 'Unbroken' Review: What the Critics Are Saying

    Unbroken, out Thursday, is a biopic war drama based off the 2010 book by Laura Hillenbrand about Olympian Louis Zamperini and his time as a prisoner of war in WWII Japan. The film marks Angelina ...

  6. 'Unbroken' Reviews: Angelina Jolie's Star Jack O'Connell Gets More

    After much hype from Universal Pictures, Angelina Jolie's "Unbroken" finally hits theaters on Christmas Day — but is it any good? According to the critics counted on Rotten Tomatoes, it ...

  7. Unbroken

    Unbroken - Metacritic. 2014. PG-13. Universal Pictures. 2 h 17 m. Summary A chronicle of the life of Louis "Louie" Zamperini (Jack O'Connell), an Olympic runner who, along with two other crewmen, survived in a raft for 47 days after a near-fatal plane crash in World War II—only to be caught by the Japanese Navy and sent to a prisoner-of ...

  8. Unbroken review

    Unbroken review - Angelina Jolie dodges Oscar by rote telling of amazing tale. This article is more than 9 years old. Though epic and ambitious, Jolie's second outing as a director fails to do ...

  9. 'Unbroken': Film Review

    December 1, 2014 6:00am. 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 ...

  10. Film Review: 'Unbroken'

    Film Review: 'Unbroken'. Jack O'Connell plays Olympic athlete and American war hero Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's well-mounted but underwhelming WWII drama. By Justin Chang. Impeccable ...

  11. Unbroken (film)

    The film received mixed reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a rating of 52% based on 230 reviews, with an average rating of 6.00/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Unbroken is undoubtedly well-intentioned, but it hits a few too many of the expected prestige-pic beats to register as strongly as it should."

  12. Unbroken Movie Review: Q.V. Hough on Angelina Jolie's 2014 Film

    Laura Hillenbrand's astonishing biography on Louis Zamperini provided several months of hype, but Angelina Jolie's film adaptation currently boasts a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The clear blue skies of the film's opening scene caught my attention at last night's Christmas Night viewing, along with this cringe-worthy line: "I'm ...

  13. 'Unbroken' Movie Review

    Unbroken is beautifully crafted even in its brutality. A sequence near war's end, when Louis and the POWs are herded to a river expecting to be murdered en masse, is memory-scarring. Jolie has ...

  14. Unbroken Movie Review for Parents

    Laura Hillenbrand's book Unbroken has spent more than 180 weeks. on the New York Times Bestseller list.. At least 15 of those weeks it sat comfortably in the number one spot. Now the story of Louis Zamperini comes to the big screen under the direction of Angelina Jolie.. The young Louis (C.J. Valleroy), son of Italian immigrants, spends much of his childhood running into trouble with the ...

  15. Unbroken Movie Review: Angelina Jolie Directs Louis Zamperini Story

    I'd say, closer to the top. It's a big, confident film that tries to tell an impossibly broad, anecdotal story — for Zamperini, who died in July at 97, had already lived three lives before ...

  16. 'Unbroken,' Directed by Angelina Jolie

    PG-13. 2h 17m. By Manohla Dargis. Dec. 24, 2014. Angelina Jolie opens "Unbroken" with a shot of a celestial blue sky that soon darkens with a battle scene so tense and fluidly choreographed ...

  17. UNBROKEN Review

    Read Matt's Unbroken review; Angelina Jolie's film stars Jack O'Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Miyavi, Alex Russell, Finn Wittrock, and Garrett Hedlund.

  18. Unbroken critic reviews

    Dec 26, 2014. Unbroken is a grueling endurance test - for the audience just as much as for its cutout champion. By David Hiltbrand FULL REVIEW. Metacritic aggregates music, game, tv, and movie reviews from the leading critics. Only Metacritic.com uses METASCORES, which let you know at a glance how each item was reviewed.

  19. Unbroken: Path to Redemption

    On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, 38% of 26 critics gave the film a positive review, with an average rating of 5.5/10. The website's critics consensus reads: "Unbroken: Path to Redemption overestimates the power of its inspirational real-life story, settling for a dull drama that too often preaches to the choir."

  20. Unbroken: Official Clip

    View HD Trailers and Videos for Unbroken on Rotten Tomatoes, then check our Tomatometer to find out what the Critics say.

  21. Unbroken

    Purchase Unbroken on digital and stream instantly or download offline. Academy Award® winner Angelina Jolie directs and produces this epic drama that follows the incredible life of Olympian and war hero Louis "Louie" Zamperini (Jack O'Connell) who, along with two other crewmen, survived on a raft for 47 days after a near-fatal plane crash in WWII - only to be caught by the Japanese navy and ...

  22. Unbroken (TV Series 2021- )

    Unbroken: Created by Andreas Linke, Marc O. Seng. With Aylin Tezel, Özgür Karadeniz, Sebastian Zimmler, Leslie Malton. A tough detective is kidnapped shortly before the delivery of her child. Afterwards she can't remember anything. The search for the missing child begins.