I first heard the name Louis Zamperini when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch before the Red Sox-Cubs game at Fenway Park in Boston on May 22, 2011, but if you aren’t now familiar with the name of this Olympian/solider/POW/preacher/author, you soon will be.
The first full-length trailer for Angelina Jolie’s sophomore directorial effort, Unbroken, dropped on Thursday with a big splash. So big, that on this basis of this one trailer, many have already decided that the film is the first nearly certain entry in the Oscar race. (I would dispute that, if only because I think Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel had that honor.)
Unbroken is the story of the life of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who was taken prisoner by Japanese forces during World War II. It’s based on a 2010 biography called “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” , (which in turn was based on Zamperini’s own autobiography, “Devil at My Heels” ) by Laura “Seabiscuit” Hillenbrand. It was a #1 New York Times bestseller, as well as being named Time Magazine’s best nonfiction book of the year.
The movie begins with Zamperini as a teenage track and field star who made it to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, even shaking Hitler’s hand, and then, with the outbreak of WWII, in the US military. Zamperini’s plane was shot down over the Pacific and he and the other survivors drifted for nearly 50 days before being captured by the Japanese. He spent the next two years being brutally tortured as a prisoner of war. Eventually he made it back to the US to became a born-again Christian who preached forgiveness for the rest of his life.
Universal, the studio releasing Unbroken, first purchased the rights to Zamperini’s story in 1957, planning to develop it for Tony Curtis. Some years later, Nicolas Cage expressed an interest. The project finally got the green light after Hillenbrand’s 2010 book became a best-seller.
Though he died earlier this month at 97, with the film, Zamperini’s story will continue to reach new generations. It has obviously gotten the full Hollywood hero treatment, including a screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen (who rewrote a script by Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson).
Irish actor Jack O’Connell, who terrorized Michael Caine in Harry Brown and Michael Fassbender in Eden Lake, but is probably best known to anyone who saw 300: Rise of An Empire, stars as the Italian-American Zamperini. Again, if you’re not familiar with his name, you soon will be, especially once Starred Up gets a proper run this side of the Atlantic, at the end of August.
Academy Award® winner Angelina Jolie directs and produces Unbroken, an epic drama that follows the incredible life of Olympian and war hero Louis “Louie” Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) who, along with two other crewmen, survived in a raft for 47 days after a near-fatal plane crash in WWII—only to be caught by the Japanese Navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.
Adapted from Laura Hillenbrand’s (“Seabiscuit: An American Legend”) enormously popular book, Unbroken brings to the big screen Zamperini’s unbelievable and inspiring true story about the resilient power of the human spirit.
Unbroken also stars Domhnall Gleason, Garrett Headlund, Jai Courtney, Luke Treadaway, and Morgan Griffin as Cynthia Applewhite, to whom Louis was married from 1946 until her death in 2001. The trailer looks both slick and polished as well as gritty and realistic. The music is by Alexandre Desplat and cinematography by the great Roger Deakins. All of which would seem to add up to perfect Oscar bait. (Maybe Deakins will finally catch one.) We’ll see when Unbroken opens in the US on Christmas Day and a day later in the UK on December 26, although I wouldn’t be surprised if it popped up out of competition at a festival like Venice or even New York. JMHO.