For a lot of Oscar pundits, director Angelina Jolie's Unbroken has long been considered the potential front runner. The most notable reason for this is its prime Christmas Day release sided alongside the fact that we have seen almost everything else, and nothing has really stood out. While The Spirit Awards likely give some insight into the potential nominees, there hasn't been one that is as blatant as last year's 12 Years a Slave. These are all valid reasons for thinking that this will be the one to beat, notably because the trailer is rather astounding. However, reports have come back and the film doesn't look as confident as it once did. Some people like it, but those expecting a masterpiece may be left disappointed.
There isn't any reason to doubt that Unbroken will be a big player at the Oscars. While Jolie hasn't excelled too much as a director, her pedigree in Hollywood already makes her a name to watch out for. Add in a script by Joel and Ethan Coen, cinematography by Roger Deakins and a score by Alexandre Desplat and you get the recipe for a brilliant WWII biopic about Louis Zamperini. Well, on paper this sounds like an excellent line-up that is sure to capture audiences. However, reviews are split almost literally. On critics aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes, the eight reviews are split at 50%. While this sampling is too low to properly judge the film, it does show some indication of what's to come.
Here are some of the positive reviews:
"Unbroken is a fascinating deconstruction of a man beaten to his core. An enlightening story, featuring star-making performances, and an abundance of masterclass filmmaking techniques."
- Clayton Davis (AwardsCircuit.com)
"A well acted and visualized, if not fully rendered, telling of a fine book and a great life."
- Todd McCarthy (The Hollywood Reporter)
This is as positive as the reviews come. Even those who liked the film also provide caveats that it isn't nearly as great as most people would hope. More people were skeptical:
"The film boasts both sheen and efficiency without always delivering an equivalent emotional impact. It's easier to be awed or impressed by it than moved."
- Alonso Duralde (The Wrap)
"Though high-minded and well-intentioned - as well as being conceived on an epic scale - there's something faintly stodgy and safety-first about the endeavour."
- Andrew Pulver (Guardian)
"Already being seen as a leading Oscar contender thanks to its impressive pedigree and uplifting true story, this lengthy drama will probably need awards season help if is to become more than a mid-level box officer performer."
- John Hazelton (Screen Daily)
And finally, there are the few that don't like it at all:
"The movie finally exacerbates its point through overstatement, with its depiction of Zamperini’s valiant ability to struggle forward amid ongoing persecution reaching Christ-like proportions by the closing act. It’s hard not to get the feeling that Jolie’s become too enamored of her subject to portray him as a human being. That perception is further hindered by a lack of sophisticated Japanese characters on par with the Americans; though Miyavi’s hardened sergeant rectifies the problem to some extent, the rest of his peers are relegated to anonymous goons."
- Eric Kohn (Indiewire)
"Jolie has made a 137-minute long film that gets us barely further than a poster, and O’Connell is the poster-boy."
- Time Robey (The Telegraph)
That is just a variety of the early responses that have been received. For those expecting a flawless hit, this may be time to start looking at the alternatives. While it will likely be seen and nominated, there's still potential for things to backfire. In a year that has seen two other WWII films fall out of the conversation, it would be strange for this one to. However, there's a portion of me that feels like the pedigree will outweigh the quality and the novelty of nominating Jolie for Best Director because of her gender may come into play. I don't know what to expect when more reviews come rolling in, but the skepticism has me worried and it may end up impacting the film in some ways later down the road.