by Tony Medley
Runtime 137 minutes.
Not for children.
This starts out with an extraordinarily realistic attack by an air group
on a Japanese held island in the South Pacific. It’s one of the best
World War II battle scenes I’ve ever seen filmed.
Director Angelina Jolie doesn’t spend much time on Louie Zamperini's
(Jack O’Connell) upbringing or athletic career at USC and in the
Olympics. In fact, they are shown only in flashbacks. She gets right to
his plane crash and being adrift in a lifeboat for 47 days. While this
is realistically done, it drags on too long, sometimes it seems as if it
were shot in real time.
His time in the Japanese POW camp also goes on too long. His treatment
by the sadistic camp commander, Mutsushiro Watanabe, called “The Bird” (Takamasa
Ishihara), is hard to watch. Jolie has done a fine job of recreating the
horrible treatment of POW’s in general and Louie in particular. Life was
hell with nothing to really look forward to. Because of The Bird’s
antipathy towards Louie, his life was much worse than life for the
others. But it was all hell on earth.
One huge negative about this movie is that the main point of
Hillenbrand’s book is that Louie forgave The Bird and all his captors as
a result of attendance at a Billy Graham revival meeting in Los Angeles
at the urging of his wife because his alcoholism and depressed attitude
were endangering their marriage, at the start of Graham’s career in
1949. Louie said that this changed his life and he realized that the
only way he could conquer and get over what happened to him was to
forgive his captors. The movie completely ignores this. The only place
this is covered is in a one sentence caption after the end of the movie
without any mention of Billy Graham. But here’s what Hillenbrand writes
After that night in the tent with Billy Graham, Louie Zamperini changed
the course of his life. .. After Louie met Billy, the former POW never
had another prisoner-of-war nightmare. He lost his desire to kill the
Bird. He no longer hated the guards who’d tortured him…The turmoil of
his life was replaced by calmness and a conviction that he’d found the
How could anybody make a film of Louie’s story and omit this? Without
this, Louie’s story is just the story of every POW. They all received
deplorable treatment from the Japanese. What makes Louie’s story unique
is that he forgave.
Maybe another reason this movie was disappointing to me is that they
apparently could never get a good script, as there are four separate
writing credits, the Coen Brothers, Joel & Ethan, Richard LaGravenese,
and William Nicholson. Whatever, the film needs editing and the script
needs to shorten the time adrift at sea and the time as a POW, take 10
minutes from each and devote those 20 minutes to Louie’s renaissance as
a result of his exposure to Billy Graham.
December 9, 2014