'Unbroken': What the Critics Are Saying

Angelina Jolie enlists cinematographer Roger Deakins and the Coen brothers for her war drama, which stars Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Miyavi and Garrett Hedlund

Unbroken, out Thursday, is a biopic war drama based off the 2010 book by Laura Hillenbrand about Olympian Louis Zamperini and his time as a prisoner of war in WWII Japan. The film marks Angelina Jolie’s second outing as a director, inspired by her interaction with the real-life Zamperini, whom Jolie discovered was her neighbor after reading Hillenbrand’s novel.

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The last of 2014’s high-profile awards hopefuls, starring Jack O’Connell and featuring a script by Ethan and Joel Coen, Unbroken may be in the running for multiple Academy Awards including best picture and best director.

Read what top critics are saying about Unbroken:

The Hollywood Reporter's chief film critic Todd McCarthy writes, “What Jolie succeeds in doing to a substantial degree is representing her hero's physical ordeal and his tenacious refusal to give up when it would have been very easy to do so. What she and her more than estimable quarter of screenwriters — Joel and Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson — have not entirely pulled off is dramatizing the full range of Louie's internal suffering, emotional responses and survival mechanisms. Nor have they made any of the secondary characters pop from the anonymous background of prisoner extras."

He does, however, praise the characterization of the film’s major players. “O'Connell is a pleasure to watch at all times here. He has energy, seems watchful and resourceful by instinct, is open to others and, crucially, seems like a man who, even when he doesn't necessarily win, will nonetheless prevail." And “the flashy role of the dreaded Bird is charismatically filled by Japanese singer Miyavi, ... the young actor, working mostly in English, has a beauty and good sense of timing that serve him well in this malevolent part." Overall, he asserts that Unbroken is "a well acted and visualized, if not fully rendered, telling of a fine book and a great life."

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The Washington Post’s Michael O’Sullivan says, "The most surprising thing about the sturdy, if slightly starchy, storytelling of Unbroken is that it comes courtesy of director Jolie, an artist never known for constraint in front of the camera. The actress’ sophomore effort as a feature filmmaker, after 2011’s In the Land of Blood and Honey, is impeccably acted, handsomely filmed and written, with a lean muscularity, by a quartet of heavyweights."

Joe Neumaier of the New York Daily News, who gives the film a full five stars, says, “O’Connell, an unknown Irish actor, gives a gripping, nail-biting performance, going down to skin and bones while maintaining a proud stoicism. As his antagonist, Miyavi is a baby-faced monster weaned on shame and indignity. They’re caught in Roger Deakins’ crisp, gorgeously old-fashioned cinematography and accompanied by Alexandre Desplait's bold score."

Read More: Making of 'Unbroken': Angelina Jolie Fought "Uphill Battle" in Bringing True Story to Screen 

While she also praises O’Connell’s performance, L.A. Weekly’s Amy Nicholson has a differing overall perception: “Jolie is more fixated on gore than grace. In making us feel every crushing blow — the better to burnish her reputation as a serious director — we're shortchanged on the beauty of Zamperini's story, and we exit blinking into the theater lobby with our hands still clenched in fists. Unbroken wants it all: the big cinematography, the close-up grit, the postcard flashbacks and the grisly Götterdämmerung that earns directors awards. But it aches for a lighter touch — the facts of Zamperini's life more than stand on their own."

Richard Corliss of Time attributed critics’ mixed reviews to "the tantalizing inevitability of gravity and grandeur" that the film seemed to promise all year long. "For many reviewers, the build-up led to a big breakdown when they finally saw it," he notes. “If the Unbroken needle stops at Impressive and doesn’t quite rise to Enthralling, it’s because Jolie stints on exploring the doubts that tortured Louis nearly as much as Watanabe’s punishments did, and whose details so enriched Hillenbrand’s biography. Even Jesus in his final hours felt stung by the betrayal of his friends and his Father. Jolie’s Louis is almost more Christlike than Christ." In his opinion, however, O’Connell’s performance makes up for any shortcomings in execution: "Jolie has made a grand, solid movie of the Zamperini story, but O’Connell is the part of Unbroken that was truly worth the wait."

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