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"Unbroken" Is it Middlebrow WW II Oscar Bait or Something More? 

Did you catch this preview of Angelina Jolie's Unbroken (2014) during the Olympics. The internet keeps calling it a "trailer" which it really isn't. I wish the internet would understand that words have meanings and the reason we often have multiple words for one type of thing is to illustrate the variations of meanings. Teaser, trailer, preview... these are different things. This paragraph you're reading is a "blog post" not "a blog" and so on) But I digress...

This early look at next year's Christmas movie Unbroken, which has slivers of the future trailer interspersed throughout, is like those very short historical reels meant to inspire you and tune you into some past Olympian story which illustrates the triumph of the human spirit / physical endurance right before you watch new Olympians reenact those ancient motifs again by trying to converts years of discipline, training, injuries, and personal struggles into medals for themselves and their countries.

I'm not really ready to talk 2014 Oscar race yet (geez, let's get through the 2013 festivities first!) but maybe Unbroken will be a biggie? I dunno, though. The Oscars are less susceptible to baldly straightforward 'Inspirational Triumph of the Human Spirit' narratives than they once were, right? Still, a screenplay by the Coen brothers suggests that it's maybe not as middlebrow World War II Oscar bait as it appears to be in this very traditional formula-friendly setting of Olympics coverage. Jolie isn't joking around on the below the line team either with Oscar regulars like Desplat (score), Sqyres (editing) and Deakins (cinematography) on board.

Regardless of whether it's an awards contender, though, it seems likely that this time next year it's relatively unknown stars Jack O'Connell (Skins, Eden Lake) in the lead role and Finn Witrock (the hustler on Masters of Sex) in support will be having some very happy holidays. (Domnhall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund, and Jai Courtney are also in it but people already know who they are.)

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Reader Comments (19)

Definitely looks like one of those inspirational movies during the Christmas break.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBia

Finn Witrock played Damon on All My Children several years ago, and appeared here at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theater with Diane Lane in Sweet Bird of Youth last year. Definitely an actor to look out for.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

I'm there for Jack O'Connell. I don't know if there are any other Skins fans on this site, but damn, that kid is a star. Genuinely riveting to watch. Keeping an eye on Starred Up and '71 for him too.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTB

Its hard not to find the story of a prisoner of war who survived inspiring (throw in the bad boy who becomes an Olympian for good measure). Unless they are acting against their comrades deliberately, how can you not be inspired?

The difference is whether the film is directed to only be inspiring......all chest pounding and cloying with enhanced situations to pull at the heart strings, or if it sets out to tell a story honestly which happens to be inspiring.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

henry -- that's exactly the question. you nailed it.

brookesboy -- omg. i would've loved to see that. such a good play and Diane Lane is rarely challenged anymore

February 18, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

It's totally middlebrow Oscar bait. The Coen brothers are two of four credited screenwriters on this film; who knows how many uncredited writers worked on it? And Angelina is so much more boring than the media pretend.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Henry and Nathaniel--If the screenplay matches the mood and tone of its original source material, then this movie will be stellar, Oscar-worthy. Jolie's first film felt a little heavy-handed, but perhaps with this sophomore effort she has honed her craft?

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPam

Nathan, I still get ill whenever I think of Diane Lane in Man of Steel...how utterly demeaning. I mean, this woman is still a vibrant artist! Sigh.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

The simple fact that Universal release this preview only 2 weeks after the movie wraped, the fact that Universal will go for a Christmas release date and are not going to release this earlier or move it to 2015 is a clear indication that they think this is a winer. This will get a lot of oscar nods but, Nathaniel dont think Finn will be one of them. Gleeson, Hedlund and Specially Miyavi have roles to die for. Zamperini himself is a force among AMPAS, an " habitué" in the Oscar Ceremony. At least this will probably get Picture, Screenplay, Actor, DEAKINS, Costumes, Production Design. Jolie (hello Ben Affleck) ????

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterpaul

I just love Angelina Jolie. Everything about her makes me smile. Brad is so lucky as is she.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commentertruthfully

It looked like a Steven Spielberg film.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPedro

paul -- interesting. i didn't know that about him (the Oscar attendee business)

February 18, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Is Angelina Jolie headed for a Best Director nomination? I could see it.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.


Yes Louis Zamperini lives in Hollywood, his son-in-law is a writer and director who is the Executive Producer for this and a AMPAS member. Zamperini is allways invited to the oscars. He said in an interview when asked if Ryan Gosling could be cast for the lead of Unbroken, that he knew Gosling at the Academy Awards. Ryan was I think one of the possible first choices but then due to budget reasons they choose an anknow and less expansive actor. They seemed they do the rigth thing. O'Connell looks superb.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterpaul

sorry my english is bad lol

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterpaul

In recent interview, Jack O'connell revealed it was Jolie who picked up almost unknown Irish actor against other people's opinions. Probably Universal bosses were thinking more known actors. He is always fidgeting and that's young Zamperini. Probably too much energy in him.
I don't know if this movie will be shown here in Japan but I'm very curious to see how Jolie directed a first-time actor Miyavi. He plays the POW camp guard Watanabe. I think he looks unrealistic as the Japanese from WW2 period but that may be one of the reasons they casted him for Watanabe because there are sensitive political issues are involved.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered Commentersunny

Don't overlook the source material: Author Lauren Hillenbrand turned what should've been another "ho hum, a story about a horse" into Seabiscuit, and that movie did all right. Her book for Unbreakable also found a new voice amid a well-worn trope. Whatever Jolie does, she's got great raw material to work with.

That said, I can't say this trailer for a trailer makes me really want to see the film. Alas.

February 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJames

"Chariots of Fire" meets "The Railway Man," maybe??

February 19, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBill_the_Bear

James, Hillenbrand's book on Seabiscuit may have been okay but, BP nomination or no, the movie is godawful. I just hope the music in this ad isn't the actual score.

February 19, 2014 | Unregistered Commentervladdy

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