Film review: Unbroken (15, 137 mins)

Unbroken: Jack OConnell
Unbroken: Jack OConnell

Jolie inspiring Oscar bait

Angelina Jolie’s third feature film behind the camera has the hallmarks of 24-carat Academy Awards bait.

Based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken documents the extraordinary true story of Louis Zamperini, who competed at the 1936 Olympic Games, survived a plane crash during World War Two then endured torture at the hands of the Japanese in a POW camp.

Somehow, Zamperini weathered the pain and returned home a national hero.

Jolie’s admiration for her subject is evident in every gorgeously crafted frame of this life-affirming biopic, which is blessed with Roger Deakins’ stunning cinematography and an elegiac score from composer Alexandre Desplat.

Wince-inducing scenes of cruelty warrant the film’s 15 certificate but the violence always serves the narrative and is never gratuitous.

As a boy Louis (Jack O’Connell) drives his parents (Vincenzo Amato, Maddalena Ischiale) to distraction with his fisticuffs.

Louis narrowly avoids reform school and his older brother Pete (Alex Russell), a star of the school athletics team, decides to channel his sibling’s energy and aggression into running.

These efforts reap rewards and Louis is selected to represent America at the Berlin Olympics.

“A minute of pain is worth a lifetime of glory. You remember that,” whispers Pete.

Louis finishes a creditable eighth after a blistering final lap of 56 seconds.

War breaks out and Louis serves in the US Army Air Force alongside best friend Russell Phillips (Domhnall Gleeson).

Their B-24 bomber crashes into Pacific, killing everyone except Louis, Russell and fellow recruit Francis McNamara (Finn Wittrock).

The men drift through shark-infested waters with little food or water until a Japanese crew picks them up.

The men are tortured and separated.

Louis is sent to a POW camp where sadistic commander Mutsuhiro Watanabe aka The Bird (Miyavi) sets out to break the Olympian’s spirit.

Unbroken soars close to greatness, emboldened by tour-de-force performances from O’Connell and pop star Miyavi, who makes his professional acting debut.

The twisted relationship between sworn enemies is intricately sketched by the four scriptwriters, including a scene in which The Bird whips Zamperini with his buckled belt then offers the bloody American some tissue paper for his wounds.

“Why do you make me hit you?” wonders the Japanese commander aloud.

Jolie’s direction is assured including gruelling scenes at sea.

Fifty-two years after his release from the POW camp, a sprightly 80-year-old Zamperini returned to Japan as an honoured guest rather than a captive to run a leg of the Tokyo Olympics torch marathon.

With every step, he inspired friends and one-time foes to forgive and begin the seemingly impossible healing process.

Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Miyavi, Garrett Hedlund, Finn Wittrock, Jai Courtney, Luke Treadaway, Alex Russell, Vincenzo Amato. Director: Angelina Jolie.

Released December 26