Louis Zamperini of Torrance, California; may not be a household name. After reading Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 thrilling biography of Zamperini, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption; I couldn’t help but wonder whether a movie could be made. The book, filled with tense, gut wrenching and disturbing accounts of Zamperini’s survival after his crash water landing in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Danger lurked around corner for the Italian hooligan as a kid, that turned into an Olympic track star. Angelina Jolie’s big screen adaptation tried hard to replicate the horrors of an internment camp, but stymied by its PG-13 rating, forcing the film to dial down the emotional punches.
We first meet Louie en route to an enemy bombing site. Louie’s Southern Californian childhood, where he went from local hooligan to high school track star, are weaved between the ongoing air battle. With his crew injured and his plane damaged, Louie flies with another crew in a different, patched together plane, on a rescue mission to recover a felled plane and hopefully, survivors. The engines blow and Zamperini and his crew go down in flames. Clinging desperately to rations and the two other survivors; Louie is adrift in a raft in the middle of the ocean hundreds of miles from anywhere.
Scenes like this where the torture and brutality were necessary to convey the constant struggle, seemed watered down. The film never tugged at the heartstrings enough to shake the linger suspicions of “Unbroken”, being a story of survival and redemption, into a checklist of peril. Aside from the ordeal at sea, to the prison camps of Japan, Zamperini’s story felt like a eulogy, where only the best things were said. Very little of Zamperini’s post war life was mentioned. His battle with PTSD and alcoholism led him and his wife to become born again Christians, while attending a Billy Graham crusade.
“Unbroken” as a film isn’t the comprehensive biopic that the book was. As entertaining as it was, the film never accurately portrayed the constant danger that Zamperini faced. Hopefully, after seeing the movie, one will ask about more of Louie’s life. Be warned, unlike its film adaptation, “Unbroken” isn’t for the faint of heart.
Rated PG-13 @ 137 mins