Inspiring & Shocking
There’s a reason Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken remained a New York Times Bestseller for three years and why the film version has become a Best Picture contender in this season’s awards competition. This epic drama of Louis “Louie” Zamperini’s (portrayed on screen by Jack O’Connell) life kept me glued from beginning to end in both the book and the movie.
After settling in Torrance, California with his Italian immigrant parents and older brother Pete (John D’Leo in the early scenes, Alex Russell later) Louie’s (his boy years portrayed by C.J. Valleroy) life is not the greatest. Often bullied, he turns to some unsavory ways to spend his days. Louie loves pranking people, which frequently comes back to bite him. He also loves to steal things and learns to run fast to keep from getting caught. Could this be fate? Maybe so, because Pete begins training his brother, and Louie ends up at the 1936 Berlin Olympics at just 19 years of age. However, his love of running quickly comes to a sudden stop when WWII begins and the Olympics are stopped in Berlin. Louie, still a fearless lad, runs and jumps up to steal a German flag off the Reich Chancellery.
After joining the Army Air Corps, Louie becomes a bombardier based out of Oahu. During one mission his plane struggled with 594 holes in it before it crashed, and one of the men died. Later he and a crew with were flying in a plane that was barely together. Although daring and courageous, Louie's luck would only last so long, and finally the plane crashed in the Pacific Ocean. He and two others who survived find themselves floating in two small life boats.
This part of the film comes across as quite inspiring. Although director Angelina Jolie or screenwriters Ethan and Joel Cohen let this perilous situation drag on a bit too long, it’s very intense. Not only do the men have to deal with no food or water, getting ill and barely staying alive for their 47 days on the ocean, they also have to deal with each other’s personalities.
As the strongest survivor, Louie automatically feels in charge and explains to Russell “Phil” Phillips (Domhnall Gleeson) and Francis “Mac” McNamara (Garrett Hedlund), that they will occasionally share one square from the chocolate bar that was in their survival kit and a small source of water. Over the next 47 days they become more discouraged when they run out of food and water and their attempts to reveal themselves to search planes go unnoticed.
Although these are horrific times, the men soon learn they are nothing compared to their treatment when captured by the Japanese and sent to the Naoetsu POW camp. The men swiftly learn their captors would rather kill them than deal with them. For some reason, the camp’s leader, Mutsuhiro Watanabe (Takamasa Ishihara), a.k.a. “The Bird,” personally sees that Louie gets severely mistreated every day. A somewhat psycho-sadist, he beats Louie in the head and elsewhere with a thick bamboo stick -- and yet moments later whispers sweet words in the hero’s ear.
Just watching this film and imaging anyone could survive such treatment says so much about Zamperini. Gleeson, Hedlund and all the cast do a great job, but O'Connell stands out with his amazing portrayal of Zamperini.
Zamperini’s life after his release is also inspiring. He attended a Billy Graham Crusade and became a born-again Christian. He made a trip to Japan to find the guards from the POW camp and to tell them he forgave them. “The Bird” was deceased by then, and Zamperini passed away on July 2, 2014, at the age of 97. He did get to see a draft of the film, described by many as one of the greatest stories of triumph in the 20th century.
(Released by Universal Studios and rated “PG-13” for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language.)
Review also posted at www.reviewexpress.com.