Is it acceptable to condemn Japanese treatment of POWs in World War II and ignore our country’s use of torture in the last 15 years? Unless we want to hold our country to the same standard, leave condemnation of others alone.
Based on the best-selling book by Laura Hillenbrand, Angelina Jolie’s movie version of the same name, Unbroken, is woefully unfulfilling. Unfortunately, most of the film dwells in detail on our hero’s treatment by the Japanese during his three long years as a prisoner of war in World War II, and the film suffers as a result.
In short, it is based on a true story where Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) goes from an Olympic long distance runner in Berlin in 1936 to an American soldier serving as a bombardier on flights over the Pacific. Forced to ditch when his plane loses power, he subsequently spends nearly 40 days in a raft at sea with two friends until being captured by a Japanese gun boat.
Subsequently transferred to different prisoner of war camps that in the end extended to Japan itself, nearly every scene centers on Zamperini being abused in some fashion. The film focuses on Zamperini’s relationship with a Japanese superior officer known as Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara), a man Ms. Jolie makes appear sub-human at every turn.
The movie makes the unfortunate mistake of praising nearly everything the U.S. does while condemning all actions of the Japanese. It seems a bit callous for Americans to continue to condemn their attack on Pearl Harbor while ignoring our attempted invasions of Cuba in both 1898 and 1961. Furthermore, we seem to have no problem keeping a section of their country (Guantanamo) as our own property to this very day.
What was further hard to take were emotional ramifications from several scenes that I’m sure Director Jolie did not intend. Mr. Zamperini, a son of Italian immigrants who spoke no English, was seen being disciplined as a youth by his father where he was whipped quite hard with what seemed to be a small cord. More to the point, if that form of discipline was totally acceptable for Italian immigrants, then why condemn NFL running back Anthony Peterson for doing the same thing to his son?
Additionally, the increasingly desperate days Zamperini and his buddies spent on the raft did little more than resemble Robert Redford in All Is Lost (2013), while shark attacks appeared snatched from Jaws (1975). Nothing was slightly original in the presentation, and you couldn’t help but feel that the movie cameras were floating just off screen.
However, the biggest problem with the movie was focusing singular attention on the treatment of prisoners of war by the Japanese 70 years ago while conveniently ignoring our own treatment of POWs since 2001. Isn’t it a little late in the day to make a movie where we are called upon to sympathize with an American POW while many in our country continue to defend the treatment of foreign POWs who suffered even worse treatment at the hands of our own government? After all, even the Japanese did not believe in waterboarding.
Hollywood has made some great movies centering on POWs over the years, and this isn’t one of them. If you want to see two that will grab you by the throat from beginning to end, then go see William Holden’s Oscar winning role in Stalag 17 (1953) and Steve McQueen, Richard Attenborough and company in the memorable The Great Escape (1963).
In the end, if Unbroken has any meaning, it would be a reminder that all countries should condemn the torture of POWs and refrain from griping only when it is their own citizens suffering abuse. After all, what is fair for the interned goose is fair for the captured gander.