Is it possible to sit through a 137-minute movie and still be clueless about the significance of the title by the end of it?

It apparently is, going by Unbroken, Angelina Jolie’s adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand’s non-fiction account Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.

Jolie's second directorial effort is sincere and well-intentioned but also inert and plodding. Unbroken rarely probes the inner life of its central character, American Olympian athlete Louis Zamperini, who spent 47 days on a raft in the ocean after his plane was shot down during WW II and then became a prisoner of war in Japan. At the camps, Zamperini survived abuse that pushed him to the limits of endurance, especially at the hands of vicious commander Matsuhiro Watanabe, who picked on the athlete with the glee of a school bully.

Whatever hidden reserves of strength Zamperini might have drawn from in facing Watanabe’s cruelty remain buried under lead actor Jack O’Connell’s pleasant and clean-cut visage. O’Connell looks the part but rarely inhabits it, just as Japanese musician Miyavi is never convincing as the sadistic Japanese soldier who delights in torturing his prisoners.

Safe and therefore sorry

Unbroken follows Jolie’s 2011 debut In the Land of Blood and Honey, which looked at the Bosnian War of the mid-nineties through the eyes of Bosnian women used as sex slaves and human shields. In the Land of Blood and Honey suffered from the same earnestness and literal-mindedness, but it had more absorbing characters and greater energy than Unbroken.

Perhaps overwhelmed by the sheer drama that marked three years of Zamperini's life and left its mark on him forever, Jolie opts for a textbook account of the athlete's experiences. The movie opens well, with Zamperini his comrades pressing forth in the Pacific theatre, raining hell from their B-54 plane on the Japanese below. Individual scenes are well handled, but the raft of writing talent involved with this production – the Coen brothers, Richard LaGravenese – makes little of the easily available metaphor of a runner shackled by war.

Unbroken provides no peek inside Zamperini's head despite flashbacks to his troubled childhood and his rise as a track star, but the exteriors are spectacular to look at. Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins makes the most of the period setting, creating beautiful sun-kissed compositions and framing his characters perfectly. The images are always compelling, the narrative often isn’t.