Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Unbroken vs. Camp X-Ray: two films concerning the lives of detainees as they cope with imprisonment.
Premise Adapted from the book of the same title by Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken is a biographical drama that recounts the life of Californian Louis Zamperini, a rebellious youth-turned-Olympic runner-turned-WWII air force bombardier. When Zamperini’s B-24 plane crashed over the Pacific Ocean, he spent 33 days floating in a safety raft before being captured by the Japanese. He spent the rest of the war imprisoned in a series Japanese POW camps. Camp X-Ray also revolves around a detention facility: Guantanamo Bay in the present-ish day. The protagonist is first-class soldier Amy Cole, who is recruited as a guard for the inmates housed there. She is told nothing of their suspected crimes. Amy’s convictions are tested when she ends up befriending and empathizing with one of detainee she oversees. Advantage: Unbroken
The Captive British actor Jack O’Connell plays Zamperini. O’Connell proved he could act when he played a young offender in the gritty prison drama Starred Up, and his performance as an Olympic hero held against his will is already being touted as his main-stream breakout. Iranian actor and screenwriter Peyman Moaadi plays the enigmatic Ali in Camp X-Ray, a man suspected of helping to orchestrate the September 11th attacks. While O’Connell seems like a sure thing, Moaddi faces a much more difficult task: can an American audience ever sympathize with a man who may have committed such an act? Advantage: Unbroken
The Captor Takamasa Ishihara, a famous Japanese musician known as Miyavi, makes his acting debut in Unbroken. His character, nicknamed “The Bird,” is cruel to the very end, with a particular vendetta against Zamperini. Kristen Stewart is a veteran of the industry, who has spent the past few years breaking away from her Twilight character with more serious films like On the Road and Clouds of Sils Maria. If Stewart is ever criticized, it is for her restrained style of acting, something that fits the tempo of Camp X-Ray perfectly. Indeed, director and writer Peter Sattler praised Stewart as a “dream.” Advantage: Camp X-Ray
Their Relationship The dynamic between Unbroken’s captor and captive is fairly traditional: The Bird physically and emotionally abuses Zamperini in order to assert his dominance. It’s a brutal relationship that affected Zamperini for the rest of his life. Camp X-Ray puts a twist on traditional prison power dynamics: though Cole is told not to let the detainees get inside her head, she befriends the suspected terrorist. The two hold hands through the cell door as Cole tells him, “I’m not gonna give up,” revealing her doubts about the system of which she is a part. Advantage: Camp X-Ray
The Director Angelina Jolie made her directorial debut in 2011 with In the Land of Blood and Honey, and is already working her third film as a director, a romantic drama set in 1970s France called By the Sea. She is particularly passionate about Unbroken; after reading Hillenbrand’s book, Jolie made her own storyboard for the film and pitched it to Universal. She not only got approval from Universal but from Louis Zamperini himself, who sadly died in July. Camp X-Ray is Peter Sattler’s first film as a director and writer. In the past, Sattler has worked behind-the-scenes in the art department of films, designing graphics for the likes of Star Trek and Walk the Line. This is a bit of an unfair comparison; while we’re curious to see how Sattler does taking the lead, no one can compare to Jolie. Advantage: Unbroken
The Verdict This wasn’t really a fair match—the winner was always going to be Unbroken—but, given the chance, we’d watch Camp X-Ray as well. Winner: Unbroken