Film reviews: Unbroken | Big Eyes | Annie

Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Big Eyes. Picture: Contributed
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Big Eyes. Picture: Contributed
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Alistair Harkness reviews the latest cinema releases.

Unbroken (15)

Directed by: Angelina Jolie

Starring: Jack O’Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Garrett Hedlund

Star Rating: **

Angelina Jolie’s third film as a director manages to tell the remarkable true story of American Olympic runner and Second World War hero Louis Zamperini without being itself in any way remarkable. That’s no mean feat for a film about someone who competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, went on to survive 47 days at sea after being shot down over the Pacific, then had the misfortune to be rescued by the Japanese and interned in a concentration camp until the end of the war.

Zamperini’s life story (including his post-war struggles with alcoholism, post-traumatic stress and his later conversion to Christianity) was compulsively told by Sea Biscuit author Lauren Hillenbrand in her best-selling biography of the same name; this adaptation – co-written by the Coen brothers – limits its scope to the aforementioned incidents, but Jolie still struggles to zero in on what makes them compelling material for a film. Spending much of the first hour crosscutting between his childhood as a teenage tearaway, his participation in the Olympics, and the beginnings of his military career, she diminishes the narrative significance of his Olympic achievements then wastes a lot of time depicting his ordeal at sea (though it’s hard to blame her for getting caught up with an aspect of the story that saw Zamperini face starvation while navigating shark-infested waters).

It’s only when she finally turns her attention to the camp – and the battle of wills between Zamperini and a sadistic prison guard (Takamasa Ishihara) – that the movie threatens to become interesting, although even then it can’t help but resemble an inferior version of The Railway Man. On the plus side, the excellent Jack O’Connell acquits himself well enough as Zamperini, but even he can’t quite transcend the film’s overwhelming dreariness (it’s certainly not the big Hollywood breakthrough he deserved after his blistering turns in Starred Up and ’71). Jolie – working with genius cinematographer Roger Deakins – also manages to pull off some striking images late on, but overall the film is too staid and reverential in its approach to Zamperini (who died earlier this year at the age of 97) to linger as an inspiring tribute to his indefatigable spirit.

Big Eyes (12A)

Directed by: Tim Burton

Starring: Amy Adams, Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston

Star Rating: ****

Tim Burton fans may be thrown by his decision to repress his signature style in Big Eyes, but it’s entirely in keeping with the story of artist Margaret Keane (Amy Adams), whose kitschy pictures of waifs with disproportion-ately large peepers became wildly popular in the 1960s after her shyster husband (Christoph Waltz) took credit for her work and built an empire promoting it as his own. Working from a script by his Ed Wood writers Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, Burton – the outsider whose films have grossed billions – goes out of his way to adopt the paint-by-numbers simplicity of the biopic genre in order to explore the curious relationship that exists between authenticity, mainstream popularity and artistic credibility. The end result, devoid for the most part of “Burton-esque” flourishes, feels like a deceptively complex formal experiment, one designed to reflect what happened to Keane by celebrating artlessness as a valid form of artistic expression. That might make it harder to appreciate as a “Tim Burton” movie, but what’s not hard to appreciate is Adams’ deeply felt performance: regardless of whether or not Keane deserves to be thought of as a good artist, Adams – decked out like a Hitchcock blonde (appropriate since she’s playing a victim of misogynist manipulation) – dignifies her as a true artist: always honest to her own experiences and compelled to express herself in the only manner she knows how.

Annie (PG)

Directed by: Will Gluck

Starring: Quvenzhané Wallis, Jamie Foxx, Cameron Diaz

Star rating: *

It’s a hard-knock life for cinemagoers who make the mistake of going to see this new version of Annie hoping for some of the Broadway pizzazz of the original. First brought to the big screen as a Depression-era musical by John Huston in 1982, the new version has been unsuccessfully updated for our recessionary age by the director of Easy A (Will Gluck), who transforms it into a garish and charmless tale, light on showstoppers, but weirdly big on car chases, confused celebrations of materialism and self-referential gags designed to justify its own incompetence. Beasts of the Southern Wild’s Quvenzhané Wallis is rubbish as the eponymous orphan; her auto-tuned vocals and inability to emote make her a grating presence and she has no rapport with Jamie Foxx, cast here in the “Daddy” Warbucks role of a billionaire mayoral candidate who agrees to foster Annie temporarily to boost his flagging popularity in the polls. Butchering the big songs and adding a slew of bland new ones, it’s a musical with no interest in musicality, choreographed with all the grace of a drunken flash-mob.