Awards season is really just getting underway, but Universal/Legendary has already positioned Unbroken – directed by Angelina Jolie, co-scripted by the Coen Brothers and Oscar-nominee Richard LaGravenese (Behind the Candelabra), and based on the critically-acclaimed non-fiction book authored by Laura Hillenbrand – to be a tough competitor in the race, as evidenced by the uplifting tone and spirit-rousing vibe of the film’s marketing – striking that perfect “Oscar bait” note, as it’s known.
In all fairness, though, the subject of Unbroken is the recently-deceased Louis Zamperini, who went from being a lower-class ne’er-do-well kid to an Olympic distance runner and then an American soldier in WWII – one who survived his plane being shot down and stranding him and his crew at sea for more than a month, only to be taken prisoner by the Japanese army. In other words, you would really have to go out of you way to not make Zamperini’s story look inspiring, while selling this film.
Jack O’Connell (300: Rise of an Empire) plays Zamperini in Unbroken, starting when he was a young man striving to become a professional runner once day. Another face you might recognize in the latest trailer for Jolie’s film (her sophomore directorial feature) is Garett Hedlund (TRON: Legacy) as one of Louis’ peers. The remainder of the main cast includes such folk as Jai Courtney and Domhnail Gleeson, who will both be taking on key roles in next year’s tentpoles Terminator: Genisys and Star Wars: Episode VII, respectively, after having mostly played second-fiddle in their past mainstream offerings (Courtney sharing the stage with Bruce Willis in A Good Day to Die Hard aside).
On the whole, really, it’s probably worth keeping an eye on all of these young gents, since their acting careers may just be getting warmed up still – and if their respective performances in Unbroken are up to scratch, then it will only enhance their rising stocks, so to speak.
As for Unbroken, in terms of its qualities as a entire motion picture, it seems promising enough, between its engaging true-story subject matter and eye-catching visual choices made by Jolie and 11-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Roger Deakins (Prisoners). Similarly, Jolie and the film’s screenwriters appear to have found a way to tell Zamperini’s story in a way that feels intimate, yet also touches upon the larger implications of his personal experiences.
The question is whether Unbroken will be able to match the energy and zeal of its protagonist – while avoiding coming off as unnecessarily melodramatic or emotionally manipulative – or if it’ll ultimately prove to be a respectful, yet mostly by the numbers biopic that doesn’t have much of a pulse. Biographical movies that actually deserve to be called “Oscar bait” tend to fall into the latter category, so fingers crossed that won’t be the case with this film.
Unbroken opens in U.S. theaters on December 25th, 2014.