by Donald M. Bishop
Californian Louis Zamperini was a young hellion who became a champion high school track star, and he ran for his country in the 1936 Olympics. When the Second World War began, he became a bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Forces. After his B-24 went down in the Pacific he endured 47 days on a life raft only to be captured by the Japanese. His treatment in Japanese prison camps was brutal. “Unbroken” brings his story to the big screen. It’s a film that should inspire new generations of Americans.
There’s fine acting by Jack O’Connell as Zamperini, and Japanese rock guitarist Miyavi gives a chilling performance as Zamperini’s tormenter. The sequences in the B-24 well convey the nature of air operations in the Pacific and the coordination of aircrews. You’ll jump in your seat when the sharks attack. And “Unbroken” provides a reminder of the brutality of the Japanese endured by allied POWs during the war. (The recent film “Railway Man” with Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman gave more testimony.)
Many viewers will have come to this film after reading Laura Hillenbrand’s book of the same title. Every screenplay writer and director must condense, and those who know the full story will notice that director Angelina Jolie did some trimming. The movie ends with Zamperini’s return to the U.S. and the embrace of his family. That he could not shake off the demons of his imprisonment is left unshown. It was Billy Graham that turned him away from the alcoholism that was devastating his postwar life. “Unbroken” needs a dramatic sequel to finish its tale of heroism and faith.
That said, the story of Louis Zamperini’s running career and his “unbroken” spirit as a prisoner of war is enough to make this a compelling film.