Patriotic Blindfold

Louis Zamperini’s life is an incredible story – a son of Italian immigrants, a raucous troublemaker, and eventually an Olympic athlete. During the Pacific operations of WWII, his plane was shot down. He then survived 47 days stranded at sea on a lifeboat, only to then be taken POW by the Japanese for years. His fight, his gusto, and resolve seem like a legend.

The film which tells his story is unnecessarily limited.

Within Unbroken is forcible, narrowed nationalistic perspective. Zamperini is built as a powerful hero. His captors exist only for their sheer menace. Such an accentuation appears artificially shrill. They’re never people until Unbroken decides they are. It is a film which never looks for reasons or chooses to question the implications of war; it is only a series of actions meant to elicit a surface level reaction. By the time American POWs are taken through a bombed out Japanese city, Unbroken has already created border blinders.

It is a film which never looks for reasons or chooses to question the implications of war

It is not a film out to begin a dialog. Rather, it is a hollow studio Christmas film. A drama. A true story. Those elements sell at a time of holiday sentimentality. Adapted for the screen by the Coen brothers, this is their most on-the-nose work to date. It carries no flavoring of their signature flair and any creative spark is diluted by studio intentions.

The grandest of POW films, ranging from commercial classics (The Great Escape) to the genuine classics (Bridge on the River Kwai) to the undervalued (Great Raid), display a sense of unwavering camaraderie. People bond under their inhuman conditions. They fight, they exist. The grandest of war films are frequently cynical and multi-faceted. There are sides, complexities, and people. Unbroken is about a person. Everyone else feels like background clutter or is sharply villainous. He is alone. Zamperini’s story has been turned singularly commercial.

Construction of the piece is appreciable. Unbroken’s stirring cinematography paired with Alexandre Desplat’s “feel something” score builds a film with momentum. It feels rich and enormous, an example of celebratory capitalism tossed onto the screen to honor a nation’s hero. The survival instincts displayed are astonishing. But, Zamperini’s ultimate story is one of forgiveness. He absolved his captors. Unbroken appears to have little interest in this aspect. [xrr rating=3/5 label=Movie]

Crash landing @ 22:02

Superlative visual fidelity is the center of Unbroken. Sharpness is pivotal. At sea, lips chap and skin begins to blister, critical in showing the progression of Zamperini’s turmoil. In camp, his bruises and cuts carry disturbing definition. The dirt of the third act, brought about by work in a coal mine, is thick.

Flushed with sepias for artificial age, the color palette is familiar. Safe, too. A rush of warm oranges almost never ceases. The final chapters do begin a segue into blue, more a seasonal shift than anything. Flesh tones follow the pattern.

Unbroken has a number of scenes in almost pitch black. The darkness holds up. Black levels are remarkable and shadows – which become most of the screen at times – are flawless. Contrast is equally vivid and dense.

A moment of aliasing upon reaching the Tokyo docks is the only notable fault of the disc itself. This “bothersome” shot is three seconds. Universal’s disc work is otherwise background material. You’ll never know it’s there. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]

With immediacy, Unbroken strikes sonically. Engines of bombers begin to hit the LFE, flak strikes in multiple directions, and the detonation of a bomb is fierce. Bass effects are wide ranging. Gunfire from enemy Zeroes is scattered but superbly placed. Bullets streak through metal to the full effect of this Atmos/7.1 mix.

At sea, waves are consistently present  with a storm scene proving a highlight. Water rushes overhead and thunder is heavy. Past these scenes, the TrueHD work slows down. It’s mostly ambiance. However, those moments linger and stick around. There is plenty to hear. [xrr rating=5/5 label=Audio]

If Unbroken is to be viewed, it should be for the bonuses. Ten deleted scenes (16 minutes) are mostly meatless extensions and a musical performance by one of the stars is fluff. From there, this is wonderful. Inside Unbroken lasts 27-minutes, peeking into the overlong efforts to bring this story to the screen, only to then release not longer after Zamperini’s death. The true story from Zamperini himself is covered too.

The Real Louis Zamperini is better still, a superb half hour look at the man’s life with interviews from family members and Zamperini himself. All true stories should have their bonuses held to this standard. There is a brief bit on a prison camp theater scene and Zamperini’s eventual forgiveness (also good), but the previous two are the extra’s heart. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Extras]

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.


Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.

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