Louis Zamperini started life as a rebellious, short-tempered boy, the frequent target of bullying and discrimination due to his Italian heritage. His older brother Pete saw that Louie had a natural talent for running and encouraged him to join the high school track team. He advised him, "If you can take it, you can make it." Louie was soon shattering records. His lightning-fast feet carried him all the way to the Berlin Olympics. Little did Louie know how true his brother's words would be.
When World War II began, Louie enlisted in the Army Air Corps. He was trained as a bombardier and assigned to a B-24 Liberator. The movie opens with a harrowing plane crash sequence. The Liberator, nicknamed Superman, is totaled; several of the crew members are dead. Louie and his pilot friend Phil are sent off on another mission, this time in a Liberator called the Green Hornet that barely passed its last inspection. The Green Hornet is shot down by Japanese fighter pilots; the three survivors Louie, Mac, and Phil are left adrift on an inflatable raft.
The trouble begins almost immediately. Louie finds out that Mac ate all the chocolate bars, the only food aboard the raft. Water is extremely limited. The three men spend 47 hellish days lost at sea, but the ordeal has only just started. A Japanese ship happens upon the raft; Louie and Phil are taken prisoner. Throughout the movie, Louie is sent to three different P.O.W. camps. He suffers extreme mental and physical abuse, yet Louie refuses to give in to his captors or betray his country.
The cinematography and special effects are some of the best I've ever seen. You feel as if you're in the cockpit experiencing the Green Hornet's death roll. Jack O'Connell's performance as Louie must be seen to be believed; he goes from a healthy young athlete with the world on a string to a malnourished captive barely clinging to hope. You wince for every blow and indignity he suffers. Takamasa Ishihara is equally good as the sadistic P.O.W. camp guard nicknamed "the Bird," who wages psychological and physical warfare on Louie at every opportunity. I will be truly astonished if no Oscars for acting result from this movie.
I am surprised that the reception for such a powerful true story has been so lukewarm; the New York Times review contains the particularly scathing line: "the [Olympic] race is so excessive that it competes with, rather than complements, the war scenes and ends up being another clip in what increasingly will feel like one man’s extended highlight reel." Adapting Willenbrand's book of the same title, which clocks in at 406 pages, cannot have been an easy task; Jolie and her writing team should get a pass for that. The Times review also goes on to say "[Jolie's] good with the actors, even when platitudes gush from their mouths along with the blood." That's insulting enough to say about a regular movie, let alone one based on things American servicemen suffered through, many of whom died in the camps. Rotten Tomatoes gives Unbroken 2.5 stars out of a possible 5; IMDB ranks it about the same.
Before this movie was announced, I had never heard the name Louie Zamperini. Having read watched his story, I can't believe that I hadn't learned about him in school. He was a remarkable person and a true American hero. Everyone in America should see this film; the biography it is based on should be required reading for high school and/or college students. His story will make you gain a greater appreciation for simple things in life: food, shelter, clean water, and freedom.