Ubroken – Americans worshipping Americans. (Film Review)
It will come as no surprise to find I had great hopes for Unbroken. I felt Angelina Jolie had worked on a truly subversive project with Maleficent, and I was very grateful to see a female character portrayed the way Jolie presented us with the great Disney villain. I knew the critics would be vicious toward Unbroken (and they were – you could see them gearing up for it before the film was previewed) because Angelina Jolie has the three-pronged difficulty of being a clever female, an empty Hollywood symbol no matter how many African counties she visits, and disgracefully wealthy. I was right in my anticipation the film would struggle to get fair reviews. 2014 seems to be the year of the bio-pic (Mike Leigh even did one for Chrissake) and the way The Imitation Game has been glorified against the vilification of Unbroken, is for me the only “proof” I need that shitty films made by approved males are more welcome than average films made by women, but what has disappointed me in Unbroken is Angelina Jolie’s turn away from her female eye, to embrace the American penchant for the hagiography of their elite. Make no mistake about it, Unbroken is all-American, and if all the liberal left-wing American film critics want to know a scary secret – Unbroken is how the rest of the world see you. All of you.
And this is where Angelina Jolie has turned her eye. This is an enormous film that ends up being a very small slice of an enormous life, but it has been gleaned and chopped to make it a 2014 version of Rocky, taking too much of the wrong stuff from film makers like James Cameron, too happy to turn a man like Louis Zamperini into a motivational exercise determined to get you to lift those three extra pounds in the gym tomorrow morning. The shallow-ness of the film can’t be avoided, even though it is competently and rather horrifyingly made, as in so many crucial moments, Jolie chooses to set us up for the inspirational, poster-famous ‘wood-hold’ moment rather than take any particular interest in film making. One thing she does spare us, is trying to make anything like an artist’s impression. If there is one clear message out of Unbroken, it is that Jolie has no pretensions to making arty films, and we were silly to think she ever did. Like its schmaltzy title, Unbroken is unapologetic about what it is, and it is destined to be passionately adored for what it is for decades to come.
All of this is a huge shame to a non-American who can’t buy into the self-aggrandising hype of the awesome country and its super awseome citizens, because there is one section of the film that actually is inspired, giving one the sense that Jolie could make a great film, if she wasn’t so in awe of the (male) talent around her. This scene is the raft in the ocean scene, when Zamperini (Jack O’Connell, who is much better here than he was in Starred up – Jolie can solicit great performances) McNamara (Finn Wittrock) and Phillips (Domhnall Gleeson who I don’t think I’ve seen better) are forced to spend thirty-three days on a life-raft in the ocean. For around twenty minutes, I saw something wholly missing from the traditional war movie – the focus on intimacy and relationship, and the emphasis on the day-to-day monotony of struggle, that the female eye can bring. Both have been done before, but not the same way Jolie is able to see into the three men, particularly as they are forced to nurture each other in order to survive. It’s the only great section of the film, and does give the implication that if Jolie was interested in pursuing her own vision, we might have an interesting film on our hands.
But as soon as we reach the prison camp, which is the bulk of the films narrative (childhood and Olympics are glossed over, while disproportionately hyped to impact beyond their screen time) the film dissolves into a sacred obedience driven by a desire to give Americans renewed passion for themselves. Jolie shows restraint, but it is forced, the extremely violent scenes played out simply as if this somehow will increase credibility rather than merely act as building blocks for the films denouement. Unbroken becomes Americanism at its worst, humble-bragging about the assumption that supremacy has come from a refusal to bend and a courageous stand that out lasts all intellect and out muscles all strength. The script – written by marquee writers – becomes a mish-mash of catch phrases and tag lines that will be repeated throughout American gym’s for years.
I’d love to say Angelina Jolie didn’t mean to make this film, but I think she did, the result stems directly from the American culture that Hollywood exemplifies, not from some directorial error of judgement. Alexandre Desplat’s score is horrible, acting as a signpost for ‘passion’ rather than a contributing thing of beauty. Roger Deacon’s cinematography is perfect and soulless. Unbroken reminded me of Titanic without the technical advances in CGI, when it should have reminded me of Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. So many opportunities to say something wonderful are given over to the self-congratulatory American ethic. It is still miles ahead of The Imitation Game, and eminently engrossing and watchable, but this time, when Jolie is getting all those bad reviews, I suspect it is because if the unflinching mirror she is holding up to American culture, not because she is a woman.