As we discussed last Friday, Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken is performing very well at the box office. Unbroken wasn’t the #1 film at the long holiday weekend box office (#1 was The Hobbit), but it performed better than expected, and came in at a respectable #2 with about $47.6 million over four days. So how did Angelina manage to do it? Variety had a good story analyzing why so many holiday audiences might have been drawn to Unbroken – basically, the film is a religious-audience-friendly vehicle about faith, redemption, hope and the human spirit. Plus, bonus points because the story is true… and a well-known story amongst Evangelical audiences. Some key points from the Variety piece:
“At this time of year stories about faith and how strong the human spirit is do huge numbers,” said Jeff Bock, an analyst with Exhibitor Relations. Bock compares “Unbroken” to “The Blind Side,” which also drew crowds in the big cities and Middle America by emphasizing uplift. “Unbroken” debuted to $31.7 million over the weekend and has made $47.3 million since opening on Christmas, stunning box office prognosticators who had expected it to make $10 million less than it collected. The oft-repeated mantra in trailers and other promotional materials, “If you can take it, you can make it,” gave the film a quasi-religious, redemptive aura that made it seem seasonally appropriate.
“It’s an inspirational film that played to all the quadrants,” said Nikki Rocco, Universal’s distribution chief. “The studio did an incredible marketing job telling the story of this hero.”
But “The Blind Side” had Sandra Bullock, while “Unbroken” is grounded by newcomer Jack O’Connell. That left Jolie to do the heavy lifting when it came to promoting the picture on “Today” and on the cover of magazines such as Variety. After “Maleficent” became the third biggest film of the year on a global basis, “Unbroken’s” success helps solidify her status as one of the industry’s preeminent movie stars — something that had been questioned given her four-year absence from screens.
“Angeline Jolie, along with Louis Zamperini, is the biggest star of the movie,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst with Rentrak. “Her name on the film raised awareness higher than it otherwise would have been.”
I heard that several religious leaders in America endorsed Unbroken as well – likely because of Zamperini’s close affiliation with Billy Graham – and it feels like the film was well-marketed to cross-generational adults. When I went to see it on a Sunday afternoon, I saw a lot of young adults there with their moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas. Box office prognosticators are now revising their previous low-ball predictions and saying that Unbroken could easily break $100 million during its theatrical run. As for what I thought about it…
SPOILERS FOR UNBROKEN….
I liked the film but I didn’t love it. I don’t really blame Angelina for that, and not just because I’m a Brangeloonie. I think there were script issues, which is weird because I would have thought that Joel and Ethan Coen (both of whom have screenwriter credits) could have punched up the last hour significantly.
I’ve seen a lot of critics complain about the torture, and yes, it was hard to watch. It was difficult to read in Laura Hillenbrand’s book as well, but Hillenbrand managed to break up the torture scenes with interesting details about life in a POW camp. Hillenbrand also took pains to emphasize that some Japanese guards actually looked out for the POWs, and that The Bird was loathed/disrespected by many of his coworkers. All of that was missing from the film. You could try to explain it with “Angelina just couldn’t find a way to work that stuff in without bloating the run time,” but honestly… I could have cut 15 to 20 minutes out of the last hour, easily, and it still would have been the same film… with the same torture problem. Why not use those 15 minutes to show different aspects of the camp and even bulk up Garrett Hedlund’s character, who was one of my favorite characters in the book?
I also think the film short-changed some of the funnier, cooler moments from the book. I personally could not believe that Louis’s handshake with Adolf Hitler was left out. I would have loved to spend more time with Louis in Hawaii, build more about his friendships within his crew. I didn’t mind that the film didn’t include Gaga the duck though – Angelina explained to Entertainment Weekly why they couldn’t do the Gaga scenes and I don’t think the film is poorer for it. And this really bugged me, but maybe I’m off my rocker: were those the correct Japanese flags? If you’re a WWII history expert, please tell me. Because I feel pretty confident that the flags being flown at the POW camp – a camp operated by the Japanese military during wartime! – should have been this one, the Rising Sun flag.
Now that I’ve bitched and moaned about everything, let me just say: I actually do think it’s a good movie and I was impressed with Angelina’s direction at several moments, especially in aerial scenes in the bomber and in the pre-devastation of Tokyo. Jack O’Connell gave an incredible performance, as did Domhnall Gleeson and Garrett Hedlund. Miyavi played a good psycho, but I also understand why Miyavi has been left off of many Best Supporting Actor lists, and once again, that’s on the script. And I’m glad someone finally had the balls to make this movie, you know? It’s been sitting around various studios for decades and Angelina finally made it happen.
Photos courtesy of Fame/Flynet.