Dec 24, 2014

I hoped for more from accomplished celebrity Jolie.


Grade: C

Director: Angelina Jolie (In the Land of Blood and Honey)

Screenplay: Joel Coen (True Grit), Ethan Cohen (Inside Llewyn Davis) , et al.,  from the Laura Hillenbrand novel.

Cast: Jack O’Connell (United), Domhnail Gleeson (Calvary)

Runtime: 127 Min.

by John DeSando

Director Angelina Jolie has adapted Laura Hillenbrand’s great biography, Unbroken, and made a conventional story about one of America’s true heroes, Louis Zamperini. I’ll continue to think about how Jolie could have made this more suspenseful, considering Louis was an Olympic runner, stayed in a life boat for the world record 47 days, and survived torture in two Japanese POW camps.

Although the film shows Louis to survive unbroken, despite the-Passion-of-The-Christ-like torture overdose, and follows his life story accurately, there’s no soul, just dutiful recounting of the separate incidents. As a colleague commented, the real life footage of Louis returning as an old man to run the Olympic torch is more engaging and emotional than the whole film.

The cinematography of the renowned Roger Deakins is splendid on land and sea while Alexandre Desplat's music swells with romance at the right times. Otherwise, it’s business as usual—get the history right. For me, a filmmaker could play with the story to make it more meaningful and involve more emotion if she has to—and Jolie has to.

The mediocre writing, that includes work of the Coens and the screenwriter of Gladiator, William Nicholson, repeats this trite line, “If you can take it, you can make it.” Also this line, “One moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory,” doesn’t sound right, whereas in the book, it does: “A lifetime of glory is worth a moment of pain.” Now that makes sense.

The villain, called Bird, should be a ruthless torturer with emotional issues tied to his lack of promotion and homosexual longings. However Jolie has chosen an androgynous Japanese rock star, Takamasa Ishihara, who doesn’t click as mean or psychotic, just barking torture orders to fill his time with an occasionally enigmatic sentence or two to entice us into thinking we have depth.   Like the film, Bird promises much but delivers too little.

As opposed to the boring torture—how about more of his home life or his search for Bird after the war? I want Jolie to do well—she has an exemplary family and solid career as an actress—but, with the negligible first directing effort, In the Land of Blood and Honey, she has yet to achieve as a director.

I assess the power of a will by how much resistance, pain, torture it endures and knows how to turn to its advantage. Friedrich Nietzsche

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at