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Unbroken (6/10)

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 about that:

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 right path.

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