Louis Zamperini was an Olympic runner, a bombardier during World War II, and eventually a prisoner of war in Japan. Director Angelina Jolie brings his story to film inUnbroken, drawn in part from the bestselling book of the same name by Laura Hillenbrand.
The movie gets off to an exciting start, introducing Zamperini in mid-air battle with the Japanese. Actor Jack O’Connell portrays him with a natural confidence, initially only hinting at his underlying fear of what might be next. A fear that turns out to be well-grounded.
Flashbacks give hints of Zamperini’s childhood—a young troublemaker without direction until his older brother helps him channel his energy and emotion into running. His mother prays for him; his father punishes him. The priest at their church bores young Louie, but his words foreshadow (rather pointedly) the courage and faith that Zamperini will need: “Accept the darkness, live through the night, love thine enemy.”
The storytelling is pretty straightforward, and some aspects will make you feel you’ve seen it before: Olympic runner (Chariots of Fire), man stranded on a lifeboat (Life of Pi), and POW in a camp (many, many movies). The beautiful cinematography is sometimes compromised by that feeling of déjà vu.
The inspirational focus of the film is the fact that Zamperini survives all of these terrible things with what we often hear called “the triumph of the human spirit.” His brother coaches him that “a minute of pain is worth a lifetime of glory.”
Zamperini became a Christian much later in life, after battling the demons of his war experience for many years. The real triumph of the story is God’s grace and the power of forgiveness in his life, alluded to in the words on the screen at the end of the movie, a rather unsatisfying way to tack it onto the story. The modern-day footage of an elderly Zamperini that accompanies those words pays better tribute to this aspect of his journey.
What elevates this film is not the original moviemaking; it’s the knowledge that these events happened to a real person, one of tens of thousands of young adults around the world who stepped up to serve during World War II. It’s a needed reminder of the courage necessary to bring an end to pervasive evil. (Universal)