Angelina Jolie Shuts Up The Naysayers And Flashes Colossal Promise With Unbroken.

Unbroken.
Director: Angelina Jolie.
Writer: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, William Nicholson (screenplay); Laura Hillenbrand (book).
Cast: Jack O'Connell, Takamasa Ishihara, Domhnall Gleeson.
Playing At: Wide.
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Movies released around Christmastime tend to go one of two ways. They're either fantasies that take far from our own worlds or biopics based on people that filmmakers think need championing.

This Christmas, we have three of the latter: There's Tim Burton's Big Eyes, about painter Margaret Keane; there's The Gambler, which is based on a screenplay written by filmmaker James Toback about filmmaker James Toback; and there's the best of the bunch, a jarring and scarring tale of survival, the Angelina Jolie-directed Unbroken, which is based on the best selling memoir of Louis Zamperini’s survival called Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.

I have not read Laura Hillenbrand's widely revered memoir, but no matter: Jolie's vision for this film is impressive.

Here's what we know about Louis Zamperini (Jack O'Connell): Growing up, he was a little shit and always got in trouble. Whether it was stealing, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes or fighting, he found trouble even when he wasn't looking for it. But, since he was always literally running from the town's sheriff, his brother saw some potential in him. Soon enough, Louis took up track at school as a means to stay out of trouble. No one runner could beat him there, and he eventually went on to compete in the Olympics. After the Olympics, Zamperini shipped off to World War II, and, during a rescue mission, his plane crashed in the middle of the ocean, leaving him and two other comrades drifting in the sea for 47 days, fighting hunger, the sun, dehydration and hungry sharks. Two of them survived, only for their nightmare to get much worse — they were found by the Japanese military, which took Zamperini and his comrade in as a prisoners of war.

Unbroken shows all of this — but, mostly, it focuses on the torture and madness that our lead endured during his stay in three separate POW camps. It's an exhausting, grueling watch. But it's also one of the more inspiring biopics to come across the screen in some time.

That, of course, is something of a double-edged sword. Without a doubt, there will be those who criticize Unbroken as amplified hagiography. I''m OK with it, though. I see no problem in glorifying a man who survived shark attacks while floating on a raft for 47 days and then got brutally tortured by the enemy, as being a hero. In my book, he is a hero.

And Jack O'Connell plays our hero well. His is a fierce and fearless performance — his second such turn of the year, in fact, after offering up a nerve-jangling breakout showing in the criminally underrated Starred Up. As Zamperini, O'Connell embodies a man who's physically defeated but never loses his eye on the prize of survival. If Unbroken doesn't turn this guy into a star, nothing else will.

He certainly looks the part, too, as Unbroken's visuals are nothing short of breathtaking. In the final weeks of his haunting stay on the raft, we see his body deteriorate at a shocking rate — while fighting off sharks, no less. Maverick cinematographer Roger Deakins captured this moment — and all of the film's moments, really — rather brilliantly.

Jolie, I'm certain, realizes this. This may be her film — her second, to be exact — but Deakins and O'Connell's contributions aren't to be discounted. Their efforts here are stellar.

Credit Jolie, though, for assembling this team. And laud her, too, for her attention to detail in every scenario we see Zamperini face. Unbroken is just an exhilarating film. There's depth at every turn — and plenty of proof that Jolie, already accomplished on one side of the camera, has a bright future on the other.

Unbroken is just an extraordinary piece of cinema.

Grade: B+.

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