When I first saw the trailer for “Unbroken” last year, I couldn’t wait to see it in theaters. I didn’t know much about the film other than what the trailer revealed. The story is based on the incredible true account of Louis Zamperini; the olympian turned soldier, turned prisoner of war. And so it was this past weekend I ventured to see the film. Directed by Academy Award Winner(R) Angelina Jolie in collaboration with Academy Award Winners(R) Joel and Ethan Coen(No Country For Old Men) for screenplay, this film starts off fast with Zamperini and crew on an air mission. Played by relatively new-comer Jack O’Connel, Zamperini is accompanied by pilots Phil(Domhnall Gleeson – Harry Potter, About Time) and Cup(Jai Courtney – Divergent), along with a few others. In a pretty tense sequence we watch as their aircraft is shredded by bullets hailed from Japanese warplanes. During this time we get a good look at Zamperini as he fights to keep the plane in the air; as well as a forecasting glimpse of his character as he cares for injured fighters on the plane. Throughout the film we are taken back to Zamperini’s past and it is here where we see his childhood.
A mischievous little thumper, the young Zamperini spends his time stealing, smoking, drinking, evading apparently the town’s only cop, and breaking his mother’s heart. Pete, Zamperini’s older brother, decides he’s had enough and see’s the talent being wasted. The two brothers work together to help Louis enhance his speed in running. Through time and persistence, Zamperini catches the eyes of the town as we watch him transform into a young adult.
Jumping back to reality, Phil and Cup are trying to figure out if and how they will fly the plane back to base. We watch as the airmen continue to glide in the right direction and eventually land/crash safely. In the time following we see the bond Louis and Phil have, which is another precursor of whats to come. Not too long after they’ve survived landing at base, the orders are in and the whole crew are going back up in the air on a rescue mission…. with the same plane they crash landed. And this is where Unbroken really begins.
Once up in the air, it’s not too long until the plane is losing altitude again and crash lands in the ocean. Louis, Phil, and one other airmen survive the crash. After swimming to the life raft the three fight the elements to remain sane and survive. 47 days later, Louis and Phil are the only two left, and are captured by the Japanese navy. Once in their captors hands the two are isolated and starved, beaten and mentally tested. After a while the two are completely separated and Louis is taken to a work camp. Here he meets the “Bird”, the commander who ultimately tries to break him.
Incredibly raw, the film doesn’t just show you the struggle and torture of Zamperini, it physically and emotionally wires you into everything he experiences. Although there were some familiar cast members, the casting of O’Connel was refreshing and exhilarating. When asked about choosing the right Zamperini, Angelina Jolie responded,
“…We had many try out for the role, we would place them in a dark room alone and see how they responded… O’Connel brought the emotion we were looking for…”
It is with that emotion O’Connel shines brightest. Without doubt this biopic is a beautiful yet harrowing depiction of what the real Zamperini went through. Harrowing in the torture he received, yet beautiful in how he overcame, forgave, and later returned as a missionary to the Japanese people. I left the theater feeling emotionally beaten. But, as exemplified by Zamperini in the movie, deep within I felt the undeniable message of where true redemption resides and that rang louder than the all physical blows combined.