Dad Bait: The Movie
Starring: Jack O’Connoll, Takamasa Ishihara
Review written by Robert D. Patrick
Chapped, sun-braised lips and unbridled suffering? It must be December, because the saliva slacked maws and welted skin is in full effect just in time for Oscar season. Clint Eastwood’s Unbroken – – – I mean Ron Howard’s Unbroken – – – I mean Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken is a Disney sports film, even though it deals with the true and courageous trials of an astonishing man in extraordinary circumstances. Jolie’s particular cocktail of overt inspiration and plain yogurt direction gums up just about every scene in Universal’s historical exploration of bereavement and determination. An empowering score patters and booms, whenever necessary, to guide your emotions as if they were a marionette on strings.
Unbroken is based on the resilient Louie Zamperini, an Olympian who finds himself ensnared in World War II, first as a bombardier and then as a prisoner of war. Four screenwriters, including Ethan and Joel Coen, shared typewriter keys in a jumbled effort to transcribe author Laura Hillenbrand’s biography of Zamperini to the screen. The acerbic wit and wry snark from the Coens is nowhere to be found, as you can probably imagine, and the dialogue is pretty brick and mortar. The characters speak accessibly, giving cliche words of wisdom to one another in greeting card font.
The prisoner of war scenes are harrowing, showing the primordial growls of seclusion and the intense subjugation by use of dehumanizing force. If you’ve seen Werner Herzog’s film, Rescue Dawn, you may have some idea of the torture involved in these sequences. Humiliation and disillusionment are specials of the day. Jack O’Connoll strains to channel Zamperini’s pain and bottomless suffering, and seems to find it difficult to project this kind of dark and seething agony. Perhaps the talent isn’t there, or he was simply overwhelmed by the enormity of the emotions he was asked to emit, but the empty space is definitely present.
Jolie’s direction isn’t offensive or inept, but it is without style or design. The fingerprints of a director with a sense of creativity is simply not here. It’s a milquetoast affair that feels like it was made by a understudy of Ron Howard. There is no doubt that Unbroken is dad bait, and will appease – if not enthrall – History Channel fans, but as a film it remains rudderless. Zamperini’s story is one that should be told, there is no question, but maybe not by faux scribe Jolie.