The Olympics Go Hollywood: Unbroken

Foxcatcher on Wednesday, Unbroken on Sunday. Seeing two new Olympics movies in theaters in less than a week was a pretty amazing thing! :)

Unbroken is the story of Louis Zamperini, a distance runner who competed for the U.S. at the Berlin 1936 Olympic Games. He then fought in World War II, surviving a plane crash, 47 days stranded on a raft at sea, and several years in a Japanese POW camp.

Just like with Foxcatcher, I'd been familiar with Louie's story for the better part of a year thanks to my previous job at the USOC. When Louie was named Grand Marshal of the 2015 Rose Parade in May, I posted that story to And when Louie passed away in July, I posted that story to as well. That was actually my last day of work at that job, and the very last thing I worked on. So again, while I haven't (yet) read Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, I knew a pretty decent amount of the movie's storyline. (Let me just say that it was really, REALLY nice to know that Louie lived to the ripe old age of 97, because otherwise I would've sat through the entire movie wondering when he was going to die. Saved me a whooole lot of stress.)

However, unlike with Foxcatcher, I struggled coming up with things to say about Unbroken. During Foxcatcher, I noticed things like sound design and subtle foreshadowing and was constantly making mental notes of things I wanted to comment on. But during Unbroken, I had none of that mental dialogue. It was an amazing movie so I had no idea why I was drawing such a blank, but in writing this post I had to look up other reviews to try and give myself some kind of inspiration.

Luckily I found one on The Wrap that made sense of everything and clarified why I didn't feel much of a spark:
If I describe the superior craftsmanship of “Unbroken” — the stunning cinematography is by the great Roger Deakins, Alexandre Desplat composed the soaring score — in a way that makes the end results seem more like a convertible than a movie, it’s because the film boasts both sheen and efficiency without always delivering an equivalent emotional impact. It’s easier to be awed or impressed by it than moved.
[...] There are powerful moments in “Unbroken,” to be sure, but it also feels like the kind of generically grand-scale movie that five other directors could have made in exactly the same way. 


Really, the movie was great. The cinematography really was gorgeous (seriously, some of those silhouette shots made me swoon), the cast was phenomenal, and if you've seen the last Harry Potter movie you know Alexandre Desplat can compose a score that makes me weep. And there were moments that had me hiding my face or biting my nails or absolutely awe-struck. But as much as I adored Louie, nothing made me cry. The only time I got weepy was at the very end, when viewers learn what happened to Louie and the other cast of characters after the war. (Honestly, when they showed footage of Louie running in the torch relay before the Nagano 1998 Winter Olympics... let's not even talk about it. *sniffles*) But that was me crying about the real Louie. Movie-Louie didn't get me all that emotional, which SHOCKED me. Things jumped from brutal moment to brutal moment and I spent more time wincing and cringing than anything else.

The resemblance was pretty impressive, though!

Those POW scenes also went on for a very long time, but I guess that's sort of the point, though. For a long time, Louie's life was nothing but torture and nearly being worked to death, after spending a month and a half on a raft in the middle of the ocean. It would've been incredibly hard to have more diversity in those scenes, and the movie did do a lot with very little. I knew one of Louie's raft-mates died during the ordeal but didn't know which one, and I spent the entirety of that portion of the movie trying (and failing) not to get attached to them and absolutely dreading what was going to happen.

I also wasn't entirely sure what to think of Louie's pre-war life being told in flashbacks. I don't think that style particularly added to the storytelling; in my opinion, it would've been just as effective if it had been told linearly. However, I did love how some of the mantras Louie's brother told him while he was training became relevant to him in an entirely new way during the war. "If I can take it, I can make it" and "a moment of pain is worth a lifetime of glory" certainly took on whole new meanings while he was being beaten. It was a really cool way to sort of see the power of sport. Obviously most of the credit goes to Louie's incredible strength of personality, but would he have had that mental stamina had he not become a runner? Sport gives a lot of people strength in other aspects of their lives, and as a sports fan, I really enjoyed seeing Louie revert back to his basic training principles to get himself through his toughest times.

If nothing else, this movie gives you a really good sense of what Louie was all about. As a runner, he was known for his strong final kick and made headlines at the Olympics for his blazingly fast final lap, despite not medaling. He was the same in the rest of his life: he never gave up. He knew how to roll with the punches and somehow managed to stay relatively positive through all of it. He was unequivocally the leader of the group on the raft, and was singled out for abuse at the POW camps but retained his fighting spirit all the way through.

Louis Zamperini was truly a special, one-of-a-kind human being. If for no other reason, see this movie out of respect and appreciation for him and everything he went through. Unbroken might be missing some emotional impact, but it's a beautiful movie and a phenomenal tribute.

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  1. I have no idea why you thought that I should go with you to see this movie…It looks like a compelling story, but I'm emotionally glad I made the decision not to see it. Equally glad that you found a replacement date.

  2. Girl I just saw this intense. I'm with you though, I didn't get incredibly weepy and wish there was more backstory on his Olympic journey. There wasn't even much dialogue, just intensity with every scene.
    Thankfully I also knew a bit about his story before seeing it. I can't imagine the emotional roller coster if I didn't!!

  3. I just saw this a few days ago, and I was, sadly, very disappointed by it. I read the book and adored it. It took me about a day to finish and fall in love with it, and I recommended it to every single person that I know. I loved Louie's story, it was so incredible and compelling, and I was so excited for the film (which is actually the reason I read the book first, I saw a preview for it), and just fell flat.

    I thought they left out so much stuff, like the beginning of his life being told in flashbacks...they put in just enough to get the quote "If you can take it, you can make it" and then went on to the more brutal stuff. I really enjoyed the scenes where they were stranded at sea, I thought that was really well done. But then the stuff in the POW camps? I dunno, it seemed like Angelina Jolie just made a list of the bad things that happened and then filmed then and checked them off and stuck them together to make a movie. I didn't feel like there was a lot of flow, and somehow I ended up feeling kind of bored.

    But the end when they showed real Louie running with the Olympic torch? That was the one part that made me feel emotional. His story was fantastic, but I just don't think it translated well to screen.