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“Unbroken” is a solidly directed, well designed, suitably cast, and dishearteningly boring film. I was thinking about why that was, and the only possible answer I could come up with was: as so often, real life just does not deliver the same quality movie scripts than a decent author’s workshop in Beverly Hills or Sundance (even though a lot of talent was involved in fixing this script – even the Coen brothers were at some point hired).

Not to get me wrong: this was a terrible ordeal the main character, Olympic runner Louis “Louie” Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) had to endure. Plane crashed, long ordeal on a float in the pacific, followed by a series of Japanese prisoner camps, and with the particular attention of a sadistic Japanese camp officer. Long distance runners, I suppose, have a way of enduring pain for longer stretches of time than regular people. So we are made to witness a wrestling of power of the mind between the Japanese guard and the prisoner, where the refusal of the American to have his will broken only infuriates the guard, having him reveal more and more sadistic streaks. Impressive. Repulsive.

Still: As a three-act drama this did not quite work out. The respective ordeals as such do not work: they are sitting on a boat in the ocean – as they are doing this in minute 10 of the film, we do not really doubt that our hero will make it out of there alive. He is forced to lift a pole and is threatened with death if he drops it. Again: The film wouldn’t be called “Unbroken” if he dropped it, would it? … With that title, one must assume that he did not just not break, but actually survived and lived to write a book about it (the “Captain Philipps” phenomenon, I would call it). Hence very little chance of building up tension in the individual scenes, at least with respect to Zamperini. While the stakes for Zamperini were terribly high – for the movie audience, there are none.

It is one of those cases… thou shalt not make a movie out of a factual story. That’s what documentaries are for.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/unbroken_2014/

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