The Casual Runner

Unbroken – Movie Review

What? Unbroken (movie), PG-13, 2014. Reviewed December 31, 2014.

The PG-13 rating is appropriate as there are some graphic scenes, and as such, the film may not be suitable for younger audiences.  But, in my opinion, can be a useful educational experience for mature high school students.

Why? It is not that often that a movie comes out that prominently features running, so when one did, we knew that one of the Casual Runner Team had to go out and review it for the site. I am just glad that I got to be the lucky one who drew this assignment.  “Why?,” you may ask? Let me put it this way:

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As runners, we all find inspiration and motivation from a variety of sources. What is yours?

I went to see the film on a Tuesday afternoon, nearly one week after its national release.  I went to your typical suburban chain movie theater that is not known for being one of those places where cinema-files gather (the seats were actually quite uncomfortable).  Despite this, when the film ended, the entire theater applauded and sat through the end credits instead of rushing towards the exits. Yes, this film was THAT good.  But do not worry, I promise there will be no spoilers in this review.

Quick Recap.

This 2014 release follows the compelling true life story of Louis Zamperini, the son of an Italian immigrant family who, with the help of his older brother, turns to running to find direction and purpose in his life.  His running leads him to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, where he represents his country with honor. Like most men of the Greatest Generation, his life dreams are interrupted by World War II, where he continues to pursue his running career, but he finds himself adrift in the ocean following a plane crash.  He is ultimately rescued, but forced to endure deplorable conditions and treatment in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (but not really).

As I am a real fan of cinema, I make a point of watching a lot of films.  Admittedly, while I enjoy movies, I do not openly gush very often about what I see, which makes me appreciate those times that come along when I see a movie that really sticks with me. And Unbroken definitely fits the bill.

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In running, when it is a battle between just you and yourself, from where do you find the motivation to push on?

I should disclose Unbroken is not a “running movie” per se. Instead, it is a movie about a runner.  Louis Zamperini is by no means a casual runner, no Olympian fits that category, but Casual Runners can nonetheless relate to him and what he goes through to become a runner.  I also found great personal interest in his life story as I am the grandchild of both proud Italian immigrants and a grandfather who fought in the Pacific theater, and I am somewhat of an Olympic geek (ok, a little more than “somewhat,” I am a total Olympic geek).

This compelling biopic kept reminding me of the awesome capacity of runners of all types.  Runners come from every walk of life, they have a variety of upbringings and professional interests, and yet they find running in a way and at a time in their lives that works for them.  While our running and life accomplishments cannot compare to those of Louis Zamperini, all of us Casual Runners can nonetheless find inspiration in this story as it is an example of how running makes us better people and helps us to live better lives.

I am walking a fine line here between trying to give our readers a sense for just how good this film is, without giving away any spoilers. I will say that the story is relatable and well-told (I do love great story telling). The film itself is visually stunning and packed with subtle, yet effective acting performances.  The performances of the lead characters, however, deserve special mention.

Jack O’Connell (Louis Zamperini) put on one of the greatest physical acting performances I have seen in quite some time. There were entire scenes that, while completely devoid of dialogue, you simply could not turn away from because his performance was just that powerful.

Takamasa Ishihara (Mutsushiro Watanabe, also known as the Bird), plays the Japanese prison camp commander. In so doing, he put on a truly spectacular, and incredibly haunting, performance.  He stole every scene in which he was in, and left you with chills running down your spine every time.  Haunting really is the best word to describe this performance.  There is no way to like this character, he is a villain in every sense of the word.  However, due to the actor’s expert portrayal, you cannot help but hang on his every word, each one of which is delivered in a purposeful and meaningful manner.  Not only are you left hating this character, but you cannot help but feel pity on him, for it is difficult to fathom how a person can become this monster.

As a student of history, I also feel compelled to address the historical context of this film. Sitting in 2014, it is sometimes difficult to imagine that, at some point in history, Americans and Japanese were enemies. Today we are such great allies and friends, and have such a deep respect for one another’s people and culture.  But the reality is that, at some point in history, we were enemies and, as is done in war, did terrible things to one another. This film does an excellent job of treating history as that, history. History is not something that should be ignored, but rather it should be examined and explored so that, in addition to celebrating the great moments of human achievement, we can also learn from our past mistakes and shortcomings. This is the only way that we can hope to never repeat them.

There is much to be learned from this film…about history…about the gift of running, about the awesome capacity of runners…and about life.

I would not dare be so predictable as to say run, don’t walk to your nearest theater to see this film (OK, yes, I would make such a pun!), but I would definitely suggest that you go and see this movie.  I also dare you to go see this movie and not feel compelled to throw on your running shoes when it is over.  Enjoy!

 

Neither Mike nor Casual Runner received any consideration or compensation for this review, and the opinions are solely those of the author.

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  1. Pingback: The Casual Runner | McFarland, USA (Movie Review) - The Casual Runner

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