Was Angelina Jolie unqualified to direct the big-budget World War II saga Unbroken? The movie tells the true story of Louis Zamperini a champion runner and champion survivor — of his bomber’s crash, 47 days on an ocean raft, and torture in a Japanese prison camp.
Salon writer Andrew O’Hehir asks a good question about the movie: “Would it be getting less attention if (a big-time male director such as Steven Spielberg or Clint Eastwood) had made it, or more respect?”
I can answer that: No and yes. I don’t recall a Spielberg or Eastwood movie opening to anything less than an orchestral response. The second part is more complex. Yes, many critics seem to resent that Angelina was provided a directing opportunity presumably because she’s Angelina — and have taken it out on the movie.
Jolie was one of only two women to direct a major-studio picture in 2014. The other was Shana Feste, who made Endless Love. If Jolie was given the job because she’s a super-celebrity, then her honor was not a blow for feminism in Hollywood.
That doesn’t mean the movie is bad. It happens that Unbroken ended its opening week with strong box-office sales. Though perhaps long, much of it is arresting. Few will forget the terror of being cooped up in a B-24 bomber under aerial attack.
But New Yorker writer David Denby dismissed the movie as “an interminable, redundant, unnecessary epic.” Then he got personal and patronizing: “You feel like yelling ‘Cut!’ to the director, Angelina Jolie, who confuses long scenes of sadism with truth telling.”
Look, one can sympathize with critics overcome by Jolie fatigue. The woman is a vertically integrated, self-promoting conglomerate. Ever since she issued racy self-photos as a teen, she has regaled the public with her every detail — the tattoos and drug use and marriages and mental illness and bisexuality and double mastectomy.
Her humanitarian subsidiary has Jolie visiting refugee camps with cameras in tow, becoming a UN goodwill ambassador, addressing the G8 foreign ministers and starring in documentaries about herself. She adopted three foreign children — from Cambodia, Ethiopia and Vietnam — and sold pictures of them (and her biological babies) to fan magazines.
This is in addition to starring in a big-screen production line as sex kittens, superheroes and troubled women alike and being voted “Most Beautiful Woman in the World” by the readers of Vanity Fair. She’s also married to Brad Pitt.
It couldn’t have helped Jolie that the opening of Unbroken coincided with the release of hacked Sony emails in which executive Scott Rudin calls her “a minimally talented spoiled brat.” Jolie was apparently trying to lure a director whom Rudin wanted for his movie on Steve Jobs to a movie she was starring in. (We are shocked, shocked to find that hardball is going on in Hollywood.)
The Jolie story seemed to little concern the attendees in my suburban multiplex who applauded at the end of Unbroken. They were there to see a movie.
OK, so Unbroken is highly derivative of earlier movies. Little coming out of Hollywood isn’t.
Another recent biopic, The Theory of Everything, is a parade of Hollywood clichés. Though Denby gave the movie about physicist Stephen Hawking a mixed review, he honored it with three times the space provided Unbroken, and he didn’t pummel the director in the process.
Can more than a handful of female directors who have artistic vision and intellectual depth but who aren’t fabulous creatures get hired for big pictures? (Their male equivalents do.) That’s the real issue. Among major studios in 2014, they could be counted on one finger of one hand.
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Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr