Friday 19 January 2018

Story of survival is captivating - only to a point


WITH Angelina Jolie as director, this biopic of Olympic runner-turned-POW, Louis "Louie" Zamperini, was always going to be under the spotlight. And it's certainly the long and dramatic tale of an event-filled life, even if the movie only captures it with mixed results.

We see Louie (played by Jack O'Connell) growing up in California, a little tearaway whose road from crime is actually the running track, when his older brother sees how fast he can sprint from trouble.

Training him, he excels, becomes a model citizen, and then, the Olympics beckon, in probably the weakest part of the movie. Blink and you'll miss it as he comes in eighth in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

But champions come in all forms, and Louie is gold medal material when it comes to soaking up punishment (and there's a lot of that here) after he joins the US Air Force.

Crashing over the Pacific with crew mates Mac (Finn Wittrock) and Phil (Domhnall Gleeson) in 1943, they're attacked by sharks, eat a seagull and are shot at in their precarious life raft by a Japanese fighter plane.

After 33 days, Mac dies, and Louie and Phil spend another agonising fortnight before they are picked up by the Japanese.

The worst is over? It's only beginning as both are separated and Louie is sent to a camp in Tokyo, run by psychotic corporal Mutsuhiro "Bird" Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara).

He doesn't like Louie's Olympic status, and what follows is a torrent of physical and mental abuse.

It reaches a climax when Louie, as a celebrity, refuses to broadcast anti-American messages on Tokyo radio, and has to be punched in the face by every single one of his camp mates.

This is a bit unfair as the fellow inmates come across as a pretty mediocre bunch, with more than a few echoes of a lone Jesus about our suffering Louie.

It's certainly an inspiring tale of survival, but as with 12 Years a Slave, it's a case of here's another whipping/beating, and the extraordinary becomes the ordinary.

And the characters, bar Louie and Watanabe, are badly written - we get to know little, if anything, about them.

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