Follow TV Tropes


Film / Unbroken

Go To

Unbroken is a 2014 film released by Universal and produced by Legendary Pictures that tells the story of Olympic athlete Louis Zamperini's (Jack O'Connell) Real Life account in the World War II where he was stranded in the Pacific Ocean for 47 days along with survivor Russell Phillips (Domhnall Gleeson) and was consequently captured and sent to two Japanese Prisoner of War camps under the brutal and interested watch of Corporal Mutsushiro Watanabe (Miyavi) — nicknamed "The Bird" — until the end of the war in 1945.

This film marks the second feature directed by actress Angelina Jolie, who had a very professional creative team behind: the Coen Brothers writing the script, Roger Deakins doing the cinematography, Alexandre Desplat composing, Coldplay for an Award-Bait Song and special effects by Industrial Light & Magic. Deakins was nominated for the twelfth time — and didn't win again — with other 2 nominations for the film, Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing, in the 2015 Academy Awards.

The film also stars Jai Courtney, Garrett Hedlund and Finn Wittrock.

A sequel called Unbroken: Path to Redemption, about events only alluded to in the end of the film and covered in the book by Hillenbrand, was released at the end of 2018, distributed theatrically by Pure Flix.

Tropes found in this work include:

  • Aborted Arc: The later years of Zamperini's life are not in the movie, but can be read about in the latter chapters of his story.
    • Unbroken 2: Path to Redemption was released in 2018 and covers the later years of his life, mainly his conversion to evangelical Christianity during evangelist Billy Graham’s 1949 “Los Angeles Crusade.” It featured almost none of the original cast, was directed by Christian filmmaker Harold Cronk, and received generally negative reviews from critics due to its heavy handed religious themes.
  • Artistic License – History: A few plot points were changed to fit standard movie dramatization. For example, in the most advertised sequence of the film, Watanabe tells another guard to shoot Zamperini if he drops the beam he has to hold; in the book, the order is to merely strike him if he lowered his arms (though he does threaten to kill Zamperini a number of times anyway).
  • Big Bad: Mutsuhiro Watanabe, AKA "the Bird."
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: The Japanese were very fond of this, Watanabe especially.
    • The first thing Zamperini notices about Commander Fitzgerald is that his fingernails have been torn out. Fitzgerald just says that they didn't get the answers they wanted.
  • Cool Old Guy: The Distant Finale uses real-life footage of Louis Zamperini carrying the Olympic Torch in the 1998 Winter Olympics.
  • Cool Plane: One of the very few movies to feature the B-24 Liberator. Although the B-24 was built in greater numbers than any other heavy bomber and used extensively by the US, Britain, Commonwealth, and Free French, only two remain airworthy today, neither of them the B-24D model featured in the movie.
    • The Americans also get the B-29 Superfortress at the end of the film, flying over Japan and dropping food supplies over the camp.
    • For the Japanese, there's the iconic A6M Zero fighter.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Several
    • Cup and Phil regarding their replacement plane, a "Hangar Queen" that nobody wanted. Phil says that it was certified as Helen Keller. Cup describes it as, "Like sitting in the living room trying to fly the house."
    • After the Japanese patrol plane makes its final pass, Zamperini climbs back in the raft to find it full of holes, but Phil and Mac are unharmed. Phil observes, "If the japs shoot this bad, we might just win this damn war."
    • When he sees the Japanese ship about to pick them up, Zamperini says, "Phil...I got good news and bad news."
    • While emptying the latrine buckets at Omori POW Camp, a prisoner says, "For a bunch of guys who don't eat anything, we sure do shit a lot!"
  • Dehumanization: A subtle example. Watanabe refuses to acknowledge any of the captives in Omori as people, simply referring to them as enemies of Japan. This enables him to carry out brutal methods of torture.note 
  • Dueling Movies: With American Sniper. They both came out around the same time, and both deal with famous men during wartime.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: A true story about a man who went through every kind of hell imaginable and survived.
  • Epic Movie: Zamperini's epic tale gets even more epic starting with the war scene onwards.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Even some of the other Japanese guards were put off by Watanabe's behavior.
  • Evil Is Petty: Watanabe's excessive cruelty is motivated by petty jealousy toward Zamperini; the latter broke the record for being the youngest American to qualify for the 5,000 meter track and field event in the 1936 Olympicsnote , the former had failed officer school and was seen by his father as a failure.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Watanabe in spades. He is soft-spoken, speaks respectfully to Zamperini in particular…and then subjects his prisoners to the worst tortures he can think of.
  • Freudian Excuse: Zamperini's relationship with Watanabe closes off with the former visiting his living quarters after his disappearance at the end of the war, and he sees a picture of Watanabe with his father, neither of them looking happy.
  • Gratuitous Italian: Zamperini in his adulthood. Though justified, as he is a first-generation-American son of an immigrant family that speaks Italian at home.
  • A Hero to His Hometown: Due to the sheer amount of war hero stories that emerged in the aftermath of World War II, not many people outside of Zamperini's hometown of Torrance, California, were aware of his story prior to the release of Laura Hillenbrand's novel or the film. However, almost every resident of Torrance knows his story and name, and he is absolutely loved and revered by the city.note  The residents of the town highly anticipated the film's release, including honoring him posthumously in the city's float during the 2015 Rose Parade.
  • Japanese Ranguage: With so many English-speaking Japanese, this is inevitable.
  • Karma Houdini: Watanabe, who completely evaded capture at the end of the war.note 
  • Meaningful Name: Watanabe isn't called "The Bird" for nothing. He watches everything.
    "Why do you call him the Bird?"
    "Because he listens, and he'd kill us all if he knew what we really like to call him."
  • Oscar Bait: The film quite shamelessly attempted to earn Oscars: It was Based on a True Story, had an All-Star Crew and even came out on Christmas Day. However, reception was tepid and it only received three nominations in technical categories note 
  • Period Piece: Set during World War II.
  • POW Camp: The majority of the film takes place in one ran by Watanabe, who is not very nice to his prisoners.
  • Shout-Out: In the Cinderella skit the prisoners put on, the name of the prince is "Hillenbrand". Laura Hillenbrand wrote the book that Unbroken was based on.
  • Smug Snake: Watanabe.
  • Soft-Spoken Sadist: Watanabe.
    • In real life, Watanabe stated during a 60 Minutes interview that he wasn't even acting on official orders when it came to how he treated his prisoners. To quote: “I wasn’t given military orders. Because of my own personal feelings, I treated the prisoners strictly as enemies of Japan.”
  • Sympathy for the Devil: Zamperini toward his captors.
    • A major part of why he had agreed to carry the torch in the 1998 Winter Olympics, as shown in the Distant Finale, was to travel to Japan to meet with the Japanese officers that took part in his torture during the war and offer his forgiveness. Notably, the only one to refuse to meet with Zamperini was Watanabe himself.
  • Threatening Shark: Sharks attack the raft several times during their drift in the Pacific. Eventually they stop after Mac beats one up with an oar.
  • Time-Passage Beard: Phillips and Zamperini during the 47 days in the Pacific. It doesn't get very long due to starvation.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Ultimately averted. Barring the creative liberties they took with some of the details, on the whole, the film remains faithful to Louis Zamperini's life story.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Watanabe during the film’s climax, when injured and malnourished Zamperini doesn't drop the 150lb railroad tie that he's forced to hold on his shoulders for hours of torment. Despite his exhaustion, Zamperini shouts a war cry in his face and defiantly lifts the railroad tie over his head. He savagely beats Zamperini before defeatedly falling to his knees.
  • Villainous Rescue: Twice. When the Japanese plane strafes the life raft, a bullet strikes a shark behind Zamperini. The other sharks are distracted by the bleeding carcass, giving the Americans a few minutes of relative safety in the water. On day 47, Zamperini and Phillips are picked up by a Japanese warship.
  • Villain Takes an Interest: Watanabe is especially fixated on Zamperini. He even tells him that from the moment they met, he knew they were alike and that they could have been friends if not for their opposing sides. Zamperini mainly just seems creeped out by the attention.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Watanabe.
  • Worthy Opponent: Watanabe views Zamperini as this. See Villain Takes an Interest above.