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Movie Night – 'Unbroken' shows human spirit (Jan. 14, 2015 issue)

“Unbroken” is the true story of Louis Zamperini, a true American hero. The movie chronicles a portion of his life and is based on the book of the same name by Laura Hillenbrand.
Louis (played as an adult by Jack O’Connell) is the son of Italian immigrants. He was a troubled boy, engaging in any act that was likely to land him in trouble. He was a thief, a drinker, a smoker, and a general degenerate. The fact that he was a disappointment to his parents didn’t even register in his mind. It wasn’t until his brother was finally able to reach him, to somehow penetrate his thick skull, that Louis realized he was headed down the path to ruin.
Under the tutelage of his older brother Louis became a high school track star, specializing in long distance races. He set several national high school records before trying out for the United States Olympic Team. Much to his surprise he made the team and ran for the United States at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin in front of Adolf Hitler.
When World War II began Louis joined the Air Force and became a bombardier (the person who actually drops the bombs) during flights in the South Pacific while fighting the Japanese. On a rescue mission to locate missing Marines Louis’ airplane malfunctions, resulting in a crash into the ocean, hundreds of miles from anything or anyone.
Louis’ ordeal to survive the plane crash is intense. He and his fellow crewmates who survived the crash faced unimaginable obstacles. Several times they thought they were about to be rescued, only to be disappointed. Once they were almost gunned down by a rogue Japanese airplane. They were eventually found and captured by a Japanese warship.
Louis was taken to a prison camp run by Mutsuhiro “Bird” Watanabe (Miyavi). Watanabe was ruthless and sadistic. He was intent on punishing the Olympic athlete to prove to the other prisoners that there was no hope, that even an Olympic athlete must succumb to the power of Watanabe. The way that Louis responds to this punishment is the central feature of the film.
The movie is not bad, it’s actually pretty good. But it pales in comparison to the true story of Louis Zamperini. The story of his life, beginning as an immigrant, rising above his social status, and becoming an Olympic athlete through sheer force of will, is one of the great American success stories. It’s impossible to completely capture Louis’ remarkable story in the time allotted to a single movie.
The majority of the movie is focused on Louis lost at sea and the trials and tribulations he suffered as a prisoner of war. Highlighted in the movie is the unspeakable suffering Louis, and the other prisoners, endured. At times it was hard to watch. Jack O’Connell nearly succumbed to exhaustion during the filming of one particularly trying scene. O’Connell has a breakout performance as Louis. Expect big things from him in the future.
As much as I like the film, I couldn’t help but feel that the movie should have been better. While I appreciate the suffering that Louis endured in the prison camp, I would have liked a more well-rounded depiction of his entire life. The portions of his childhood and Olympic career were glossed over with very little depth. Likewise, his life after the war was only mentioned in text at the close of the movie. Louis Zamperini’s life away from the military is worthy of a movie in its own right.
Despite its flaws, “Unbroken” is a good movie, just not all that it could have been, not all that the exceptional life of Louis Zamperini deserved. The strength of the human spirit he exhibited is amazing, his courage inspiring.
Grade: B+
Rated PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language.