unbrokenSome films nail the emotional journey, some the tragic one,  some the triumphant, some the visual; and the rarest of films, nails them all. In the case of Unbroken, the latest offering from Legendary Pictures, directed by Angelina Jolie, all of these elements are present and yet the film falls just short of perfection.

The life of Louis Zamperini was beyond exceptional and just the raw facts surrounding his long life is enough to fill a screen with compelling drama. Based on the book Unbroken written by the Pulitzer Prize winning Laura Hillenbrand (Seabiscuit) , the film is a graphic, darkly modeled trip through the uncomfortable events of Zamperini’s life. Zamperini went from Olympic fame to being stranded at sea for 47 days. Resulting in his imprisonment in a Japanese war camp. While Unbroken is a triumph of the spirit, some have questioned whether or not Unbroken is simply Unbelievable. The given circumstances and the likelihood that Zamperini endured the physical punishments he faced can certainly be taken to task. But a bit of dramatic license is forgivable when recounting this story. After all, the world has become rather desensitized to any strain of violence and few modern movie audiences could suffer a tenth of what the men and women in and out of uniform endured during the violent and unforgiving era that was the Second World War. Almost no one could overcome the adversity Zamperini faced on his  journey, except Zamperini; and that makes this a story worth telling.

Perhaps a universal, modern detachment from actual struggle is where the film falls short of the emotional truth. Louis, as portrayed by Jack O’Connell (300:Rise of an Empire) is a flawed, insecure, young man who finds his unusual and incredible strength in rising above the lowest expectations of those around him. Louis is determined to give the figurative “bird” to anyone who thinks he is unexceptional, including himself. It is a charming and wonderful quality, and O’Connell is nuanced and effective in bringing this spitfire to the screen.

While the script was re-wriiten by the absurdly talented Joel and Ethan Coen (No Country for Old Men, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou) parts of it still feel unnecessarily expository in the early moments of the film. A conversation between the young Zamperini (C.K. Valleroy) and his older brother Pete (John D’Leo) is far too on the nose and makes the viewer feel emotionally spoon fed.

Jolie is a fine director and certainly an interesting one. However, her choices often keep one from really entering into Louis’ private world from the inside out. Shots are framed in an emotionally detached manner and often times moments that should land straight on the heart, hover just above, hoping to be effective. A scene where young Zamperini is corporally punished by his father for drinking and fighting is framed with Zamperini’s mother and sister locked in a stagnant embrace just on the other side of the open doorway. The feeling is sterile. Even though at the root, the scene is meant to be an upsetting event in the formative years of a smart, young man.

Unbroken is still an amazing cinematic accomplishment and a story that is hard to walk away from without mulling it over, time and again.  Beautifully shot, and ultimately inspiring, Zamperini is a true American hero and this film deserves to be viewed and discussed.