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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Unbroken is Angelina Jolie's affecting, inspiring biopic about Louis Zamperini (Jack O'Connell), an Olympic athlete who finds himself tested all sorts of ways during World War II, culminating in a two-year stint in a Japanese prison camp. As expected based on the source material (the script was adapted from Laura Hillenbrand's book about Zamperini's life), there are plenty of scenes showing torturous abuse, including beatings, verbal harangues, and psychological attacks; some of it is quite difficult to watch. Aerial combat footage includes explosions, and Zamperini's time adrift on the ocean is also intense; at one point, he and his boatmates take on sharks with their bare hands. Language is infrequent and mild, but some early scenes portray a teenager smoking and drinking. Families may want to check out Hillenbrand's young adult adaptation of her bestselling book.
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What's the story?
Based on Lauren Hillenbrand's same-named book, UNBROKEN tells the true story of Louis Zamperini (Jack O'Connell), an Olympic athlete who impressed the world in the 1936 Olympics by running the final lap of the 5,000-meter event in a blazing 56 seconds. And later, after surviving 47 days adrift in the Pacific after a plane crash, he became a POW in Japan for two years. Remarkable and resilient, Zamperini survives the meanest challenges of life, including being stranded on a raft with two other crewmen, only to be picked up by a Japanese naval ship and spirited behind enemy lines, where he's beaten and tortured.
Is it any good?
This movie will undoubtedly leave audiences with nothing but admiration for the strong, noble Zamperini, and for this alone, it's worth watching. It's also notable for its lush cinematography and disciplined storytelling, which doesn't rely overly on swelling music and other tricks to make audiences feel with a capital F.
But for a film that does so much, Unbroken still falls short in some aspects. A footnote at the end hints at incomparable kindness that Zamperini bestowed upon his enemies, and yet this is told in words rather than images. It's a pity. And though it's clear Zamperini survives partly by holding on to the lessons his brother gave him -- words that echo through his head and that the audience hears -- it feels like there's much more depth to him that's left unexplored. And what of his pain? The film hints that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder of some kind; completely understandable, given the circumstances, but nothing makes a man even more unbroken than to have survived all so much while still maintaining the measure of grace that historians said Zamperini had -- but that's not quite reflected here. We would have loved to have seen the whole story.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Unbroken's violent scenes. How do the prison camp abuse scenes make you feel? Did they need to be included so audiences could understand what Zamperini went through? How do they compare to the scenes of aerial combat and of the men adrift in the ocean? Which had the most impact on you, and why?
How does battle affect people? Do you think movies and TV shows depict it realistically? What are the consequences?
- In theaters: December 25, 2014
- On DVD or streaming: March 24, 2015
- Cast: Jack O'Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Jai Courtney
- Director: Angelina Jolie
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Character strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 137 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language
- Last updated: January 9, 2020
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