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UrsusArctos
The Beginning and the End
The Beginning and the End
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Postby UrsusArctos » Fri Dec 26, 2014 10:29 am

Watched this just-released movie yesterday, practically the first night screening. It's the story of US Olympic athlete and POW Louis Zamperini, a man who set the record for the fastest last lap in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and who served as a bombardier during the War in the Pacific, being left adrift after his defective B-24 crashed at sea and then landing up as a POW in Japan, where he landed up being treated rather brutally. He returns home a war hero.

I'm not putting anything in spoiler tags since the core of this man's story isn't something that's spoiler-worthy in itself : a tale of the endurance of a man's spirit in the face of extreme brutality, whether from nature or (worse) from the men around him. It's an old tale but it's told very well indeed, and the movie's imagery is in places stunningly beautiful. The actors throw in solid performances, barring one exception - which I will come to later.

The full story of this man involves his forgiveness of his captors, a part that is sadly missing here bar a few black-and white title cards that says he forgave them, and a short clip of the real Zamperini at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. Had Angelina Jolie (who directed this and did a superb job) added five minutes showing Zamperini from a few years after the war embracing and forgiving some of his Japanese prison guards, it would have driven home the message of forgiveness better than any title cards ever could.

This also brings up another sore point - the brutal treatment of Zamperini by Mutsuhiro Watanabe, "The Bird". That Watanabe was a brute - and judging from the wikipedia article, an even bigger brute and even wilder in his mood swings than portrayed in the movie - is beyond question and is indeed portrayed very well. The trouble lay in the casting of Miyavi, who, unwittingly or otherwise, made Watanabe look like a sadistic homosexual, an offensive stereotype that the movie could seriously do without. It doesn't help that Miyavi is a classic Bishonen (he looks 10 years younger than he really is!).

Another minor issue was the lack of clear time/place descriptors, especially towards the end of the movie. It was hard to tell where they were, or what was going on at the time.

Overall, this movie was an amazing experience and a fantastic effort all around, although the flaws I mentioned here keep it from rising to perfection the way it very well could have. After the sickening experience of Interstellar, here is a movie that is truly great and worth watching. Watching Zamperini plow through his misery with raw willpower alone is something you shouldn't miss.
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