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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Unbroken (Blu-ray)
Unbroken (Blu-ray)
Universal // PG-13 // March 24, 2015 // Region A
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by William Harrison | posted March 28, 2015 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
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A U D I O
E X T R A S
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P R I N T
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THE FILM:

Click an image to view Blu-ray screenshot with 1080p resolution.

Hollywood has long dramatized the lives of unremarkable men with ease, but often stumbles when retelling the story of someone truly exceptional. Filming the life of Louis "Louie" Zamperini is no easy task. The former United States Olympian survived a plane crash in World War II, only to be stranded on a raft for 47 days before he was sent to a Japanese internment camp. Sophomore director/producer Angelina Jolie steers this adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand's ("Seabiscuit: An American Legend") biography, which the Coen Brothers helped adapt for the screen. Beautifully shot and nicely acted, Unbroken is an affecting if imperfect film. Parts of the multi-act narrative work better than others, and Jolie tends to keep her audience at arm's length. Unbroken is appropriately stirring, but never quite matches the power of the story it is telling.

The film opens with a mid-air firefight between a Japanese plane and an American B-24 Liberator bomber, which is ill-equipped to defend against close-range attacks. U.S. Army Air Force bombardier Zamperini (Jack O'Connell) and most of the crew escape death, only to go down in the Pacific during a later flight thanks to a faulty aircraft. Zamperini, Francis "Mac" McNamara (Finn Wittrock), and Russell "Phil" Phillips (Domhnall Gleeson) end up in a life raft, where Zamperini spends nearly seven weeks surviving on rain water and raw fish. He is then taken to a series of Japanese P.O.W. camps, where he is brutalized by a young Japanese corporal, Mutsuhiro "Bird" Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara).

Jolie shows a talent for staging in the early dogfight scene, and plays with natural light and shadow in the sunbaked Pacific islands. Unbroken nails the period dress and settings, and the effects blending is nearly seamless. The director's weakness is less technical than emotional, as Jolie struggles to connect with these characters. O'Connell does a fine job here, particularly as the Bird strikes him with a cane pole repeatedly, but his character misses an early emotional connection to the audience. This is the direct result of the ineffective flashback scenes showing Zamperini bullied as a child for his Italian heritage and the underwhelming way in which Jolie and company portray his rise to the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin as a long-distance runner. These scenes are sepia-toned hokum and out of character with the rest of the film.

Things begin to click when Zamperini's plane goes down, and his 47 days on a life raft in troubled waters make for compelling drama. Jolie makes up for the previous lack of emotion with some great character work between the three surviving men, who struggle to stay calm and sane. They fish, fend off sharks and dive deep to avoid Japanese bullets. When Mac dies, he is quietly mourned. Louie and Phil wind up in a rural camp before Louie is taken to Tokyo. He refuses to broadcast anti-American propaganda in exchange for better treatment, and Watanabe targets him because of his Olympic past. The young corporal is needlessly cruel; apparently bitter about being passed over for a promotion. Ishihara plays the Bird with child-like petulance and a smug arrogance that gets under the skin.

Unbroken echoes Jolie's previous directorial effort, In the Land of Blood and Honey, in its relentless assault on the viewer once Zamperini refuses to aid the Japanese. That film presented a sickening reel of pain and death, and Unbroken, too, is at times hard to watch. How Zamperini survived being assaulted by each one of his fellow prisoners on Watanabe's orders is anyone's guess. Unbroken stays focused on its protagonist, and the war outside the camp walls is mostly unknown. That seems appropriate when portraying the life of a man totally removed from society.

Before the credits roll, text cards inform the audience that Zamperini forgave his captors and met with many of them after the war. All except the Bird. That's an interesting story I wish Unbroken had included. Jolie's second directorial outing was certainly more profitable than her first, and I think she did a pretty good job with the difficult material. Jolie proves willing to explore the darkness of man, and never shies from the harsh realties of war. The film suffers for the underwhelming early scenes of Zamperini's youth, but gets back on track over the Pacific. Unbroken can be a bit emotionally distant, but there is plenty to admire here.

THE BLU-RAY:

PICTURE:

The gorgeous cinematography of Roger Deakins is complemented by this strong 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer. The 138-minute film is given a healthy bitrate, and compression issues are totally absent. Healthy, inky black levels and good shadow detail supplement the warm contrast and bright primaries. Fine-object detail is strong, as is sharpness in the frequent wide and landscape shots. Texture in clothing and other objects is abundant, and issues like aliasing or banding are non-existent. The digitally shot film retains life-like motion and depth throughout.

SOUND:

The rambunctious Dolby Atmos mix, which my equipment handles as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix, is outstanding. There are plenty of wartime effects, like gunfire, falling bombs, and sputtering plane engines to tax the surrounds and subwoofer, and the entire sound field is used to create a believably immersive environment. Dialogue is crystal clear and without distortion, whether directional or front-and-center, and ambient effects like weather and city noise are subtly effective. Alexandre Desplat's score is appropriately realized and balanced nicely with the music and effects. An English 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is also available, as are French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital dubs. English SDH, French and Spanish subs are included.

PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:

This two-disc "combo pack" includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy and both iTunes and UltraViolet HD digital copies. The discs are packed in a standard case, which is wrapped in a foil, embossed slipcover. There are a number of extra features:

  • Deleted Scenes (15:44 total/HD) - Likely cut to improve the film's pacing, these deleted scenes are expendable save for a nice moment between Louie and his older brother.
  • Inside Unbroken (27:23 total/HD) - This three-part featurette focuses on the history of adapting Zamperini's life for the screen, Angelina Jolie as a director, and real World War II veterans. Although it runs less than half an hour, this piece provides valuable interviews and footage without the typical EPK spin.
  • The Real Louis Zamperini (29:47/HD) - This piece discusses the film's hero and touches on some of the interesting aspects of Zamperini's life not shown in the film proper.
  • Cast and Crew Concert Featuring Miyavi (7:42/HD) - The film's villain steps out of character to provide an impressive musical performance.
  • Prison Camp Theater: Cinderella (6:29/HD) - This brief featurette dissects the somewhat bizarre scene in the film where prisoners of war are forced to dress in drag and entertain their captors.
  • Louis' Path to Forgiveness (6:43/HD) - This further discusses Zamperini's religious transformation after the war that allowed him to forgive his tormentors.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

Director Angelina Jolie films a sprawling epic about Louis "Louie" Zamperini, a United States Olympian that spent 47 days adrift at sea before being captured by the Japanese during World War II. The film struggles when presenting the early life of its protagonist, which keeps it somewhat emotionally distant, but later scenes where an impressive Jack O'Connell faces down certain death at sea and a vicious Japanese corporal are powerful. The Blu-ray features excellent picture and sound and some nice added features. Recommended.


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William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.

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