A larrikin New York kid of Italian descent, Louis Zamperini (Jack O'Connell), becomes an Olympic runner but when World War II breaks out he ends up in the US Air Force. On a search mission for a lost US aircraft over the Pacific, his damaged, barely airworthy plane, The Green Hornet, goes down into the ocean and after enduring 47 days in a small dinghy, Zamperini and the only other survivor, Russell Allen 'Phil' Phillips (Domnhall Gleeson) are captured by the Japanese. He endures further hardships and torture as a POW, but he never gives up hope. (Based on a true story.)
Review by Louise Keller:
Courage, determination and the sheer will to survive are the key elements that propel Louis Zamperini to a life of glory, reinforcing the words his brother tells him about the worthwhile nature of a moment of pain. While his achievements as an Olympic athlete are a clear indicator of glory, his survival on a life-raft for 47 long days on a merciless ocean and as an abused POW at the hands of a brutal Japanese commander during WW2 herald an even greater achievement. Resilience and a willingness to forgive are the moral threads of this true-life personal story that Angelina Jolie has brought to the screen in a riveting, involving and powerful film.
Adapting Laura Hillenbrand's novel, four big gun screenwriters (Joel and Ethan Coen, Richard Gravenese and William Nicholson) collaborate to deliver a potent screenplay, telling the story simply and effectively. The film begins high in the clouds in a sky crowded with warplanes and gunfire during WWII. Louis (Jack O'Connell) is in one of these planes as bombs drop and flak whizzes around him. Relief comes by way of a flashback to his childhood, describing his Italian heritage, his relationships with his parents and adored older brother Pete (Alex Russell) who always encourages him. 'If you can take it; you can make it.' Winning a place on the track team follows - and the Olympics.
The sequence in the rubber lifeboat tossed relentlessly on the waves of the ocean after a crash landing, is harrowing. At the mercy of enemy planes, circling sharks, extreme weather conditions and little water, Louis, Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) and another survivor cling to life - clutching at passing seagulls and stray fish, while trying to keep their minds sharp. The good news of being rescued is dampened by the fact that their rescuers are the enemy. There is worse to come.
The cruelty of the treatment at the POW camp is hard to watch as Louis and the other prisoners assume skeletal proportions. Most disturbing is the erratic behaviour, unconscionable beatings and psychological torture by the sadistic Japanese commanding officer Watanabe (composer Miyavi in a haunting screen debut), who targets Louis for deep-seated reasons that we can only vaguely imagine. The scene in which Watanabe forces the entire battalion to punch Louis in the face one by one is horrific.
O'Connell is superb as Louis; we are constantly able to empathise with him. Also excellent is Domhnall Gleeson and the other cast members. Worthy of note is Alexandre Desplat's mesmerising dramatic score and Roger Deakin's assured cinematography that captures the stark conditions with such clarity. Shot entirely in Australia, it is fitting that the film's World Premiere was held here.
It is rare that the celebrity and profile of the director outshines that of the film's stars, but there is little doubt that it is Jolie's name that is the drawcard. Clearly a project of love, she directs her second film with the unbeatable combination of passion and a clear vision.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Laura Hillenbrand's exceptionally detailed and superbly written book is a vast, immersive experience; Angelina Jolie's sensitive and faithful film of it (with the help of the screenplay writers) is a visceral experience. While the film cannot possibly replicate the entire sweep of the book - even a mini series would be struggling - it makes good use of the powers of cinema. The moving image (in its double entendre sense) brings characters and places into sharp focus, the physicality of the action is rapidly understood by the brain and the story telling structure (eg editing, etc) creates a certain emotional association with the story.
And it's a heck of survival story. Ordeals that would have perhaps killed less resilient men, and certainly would have crushed their spirit, only made Zamperini (O'Connell) stronger, if not physically, certainly mentally. With his brother's admonishment that 'if I can take it, I can make it' as sort of survival mantra - originally applied to him running, breaking through the pain barrier - Zamperini absorbs all the violence that nature and man can inflict on him.
Jolie's direction is uncluttered, pure, focused and devoid of sentimentality - though not of sentiment. Emotional forces tug at the audience in almost every frame, and relief from tension is minimal. How can it not be, given the story. But the purity and sincerity of Jolie's mission - to celebrate what becomes Zamperini's beautiful, unbroken soul, lends the film a certain ethereal quality.
The casting is considered and effective, with all the characters, not just the leads, matching perfectly into the film's sense of time and place. O'Connell captures the complexity of Zampirini's strength of character within the gentleness of his nature, contrasting with Miyavi's unnerving portrayal of The Bird, the Japanese prison camp Commander whose inner demons manifest as hideous brutes, yet we get to see his spiritual void as it eats away at him - possibly due to his father's emotional cruelty. All that in a few telling glances? Yes.
For those who haven't read the book, the film is just as rewarding; it loses nothing that takes away from the core of the Zamperini story and may well encourage viewers to pick up the book. They will be equally well rewarded by it.
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CAST: Jack O'Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Jai Courtney, Miyavi, Garrett Hedlund, Alex Russell, Spencer Lofranco, Luke Treadaway, John Magaro, John D;Leo, Morgan Griffin, Vincenzo Amato, Maddalena Ischiale, C. J. valleroy, Sophie Dalah, Savannah Lamble, Shingo Usami
PRODUCER: Angelina Jolie, Matthew Baer, Erwin Stoff, Clayton Townsend
DIRECTOR: Angelina Jolie
SCRIPT: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, William Nicholson (book by Laura Hillenbrand)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Roger Deakins
EDITOR: William Goldenberg, Tim Squyers
MUSIC: Alexandre Desplat
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Jon Hutman
RUNNING TIME: 137 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 15, 2014