Angelina Jolie takes the helm of an exciting but overambitious WWII survival story
Angelina Jolie’s second film as director, following her bleak 2011 Bosnian war drama In the Land of Blood and Honey, is another conflict saga. This time, it’s the true tale of Louis Zamperini, a US Army Air Force bombardier in World War II who died last July, aged 97. Based on the biography by Laura Hillenbrand, it’s a staggering tale of 'survival, resilience and redemption' to quote the book’s subtitle. Zamperini’s life story is enough to overburden three Hollywood movies, let alone one.
And therein lies the problem. Think Chariots of Fire meets Cast Away meets Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence and you’re some way to picturing this self-consciously epic, narratively soggy drama. Played with unbridled commitment by British actor Jack O’Connell, we see Zamperini begin his adult life as a 5000-metre runner, competing in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. The only surprise is that Jolie resists showing his personal encounter with Adolf Hitler after delivering a record-breaking final lap.
The real meat of the story comes when Zamperini crashes into the Pacific during a WWII search mission. Clinging to a dingy, he and two others (Finn Wittrock and Domhnall Gleeson) are left to drift through the ocean – contending with storms, sharks and starvation. If that wasn’t enough, their luck really deserts them when they’re picked up by the Japanese Navy. Made a POW, Zamperini is subjected to beatings and humiliations, notably at the hands of super-cruel prison guard ‘The Bird’ (Japanese rock star Miyavi).
Technically it’s a fine movie, with Jolie’s eye for action much improved from her debut (the opening air raid is thrilling). She’s also clearly hugely admiring of her subject, but with so much story going on, there’s little chance for any really subtle character development. In the end, it’s good old-fashioned Boxing Day entertainment: a rollicking adventure about the indefatigability of the human spirit that falls some way short of its cinematic inspiration David Lean.
General release from Fri 26 Dec.