Unbroken is the most literal film of the year -- it's wholly the tale of a victim (Louis Zamperini, played by Jack O'Connell) who won't crack. Make that three films -- it plays like several shorts edited end-to-end. The first is a cheery Dust Bowl tale of an immigrant boy made good, a kiddie thug (C.J. Valleroy plays young Louis) who sneaks booze into milk bottles and goes home to a dear mama who makes gnocchi from scratch and prays for his soul. Louis gets his life on track only when he takes up running; eventually he races the fastest lap at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
The second and third acts are nightmares. On a routine rescue mission, Louis's plane crashes into the ocean, killing eight of the 11 men aboard. We gasp when we see his leg pinned under fuselage -- will he ever race again? Very quickly, it's clear that winning a gold medal is the least of his problems. Director Angelina Jolie settles into the survivors' raft for a long stretch at sea where we feel every creak and breeze.
It gets worse when the boys are scooped up by the Japanese. What follows is unceasing torture, onscreen and vicariously in the theater. At the hands of pretty-boy war criminal Mutsushiro Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara), the Americans are beaten and beaten and beaten. By then, the life raft is leagues away, the marmalade childhood farther still. But we're no closer to figuring out the point of Unbroken, other than to marvel at Louis's strength.