Was Angelina Jolie unqualified to direct the 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: "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 -- including the tattoos, drug use and double mastectomy.
Her humanitarian subsidiary has Jolie visiting refugee camps with cameras in tow, addressing the G-8 foreign ministers and starring in documentaries about herself. She adopted three foreign children 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.
The Jolie story seemed to little concern the attendees in my multiplex who applauded at the end of "Unbroken." They were there to see a movie.
OK, so "Unbroken" is derivative of earlier movies. Little coming out of Hollywood isn't.
Another recent biopic, "The Theory of Everything," is a parade of Hollywood cliches. 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.
Froma Harrop is a syndicated columnist.