Sunday, December 21, 2014
The film opens with a breathtaking battle in the air when Louie (Jack O'Connell) and his pal encounter enemy fire during a bombing operation. Between the bullets, the film smoothly flashes back to Louie's teenager years (C.J. Valleroy) when he was a restless naughty boy. Under the encouragement of his brother Pete (John D'Leo), Louis trains hard and becomes a distance runner. At the 1936 Summer Olympics, Louie performs remarkably during the last lap of men's 5000 meters final competition. Although the film reenacts the unforgettable moment, it noticeably leaves out the episode that Hitler was so impressed by Louie's performance and met him in person to shake his hands. Probably the incident doesn't quite fit into the undertone of the film, or perhaps there is no time to tell that story, because the film swiftly brings us back to the fierce fight in the mid air.
After the excitement in the air is over, the film shifts to its second act in the sea after Louie's plane crashes. Three survivors—Louie, the pilot Russell Alan "Phil" Phillips (Domhnall Gleeson), and tail gunner Francis "Mac" McNamara (Finn Wittrock)—hang on their lives on a raft. Like in "Life of Pi" without a tiger but plenty sharks, the three drifts in wide open water for 47 days until Louie and Phil are miraculously spotted and captured by a Japanese war ship. From one hell to another, they are put in a POW camp in Tokyo.
The third act of the film becomes the most unbearable to watch when it depicts Louie's misery in the Japanese POW camp. An unpredictable, mood swinging, and terrifying officer Mutsuhiro Watanabe (Miyavi), also known as "The Bird," is the worst nightmare and the most evil monster in the camp. He repeatedly tortures Louie and other prisoners, often for no reason at all or maybe to satisfy his personal sadistic desire. Yet, Louie is unbroken by the brutality and endures the unbearable for more than two years until the end of war.
With this solid sophomore feature, Angelina Jolie attracts the spotlight as a fine director in a male-dominated crowd. This is a fine piece of work that is full of confidence and top-notch technical details. Each scene is impeccably composed to tell the amazing story about this unbreakable war hero. The first act of the film especially stands out to be exhilarating. It's a chaotic and thrilling fight, yet we are clearly shown what is going on.
However, Angelina Jolie seems to be restrained by the material in the screenplay. Her ability on exploring the source for Louie's strong mind is unfortunately confined to nothing more than a few words from his buddies and his brother Pete. What keeps Louie going while floating in the sea with little hope to be rescued? How can Louie endure the horrific physical torment and hideous living condition? The film says little about that. Particularly in the second and third section, the film spends more time showing Louie's suffering than portraying his increasingly stronger mentality.
Japanese rock star Miyavi gives a striking performance as the malicious Watanabe, but the film also tends to focus more on what crimes he committed and less on why he lacks of any humanity in his soul.
It's heartwarming to see the footage of 80-year-old Louie ran a lag in 1998 Winter Olympics Torch Relay during the end credit, which also states that Louie has forgiven Watanabe. Given what Louie went through in the film, it's extremely remarkable as well as intriguing about how Louie comes to term of reconciliation. That should be another, perhaps more interesting, movie about this exceptional human being.