Stop. If you haven’t read Lauren Hillenbrand’s book “Unbroken” but want to see the movie I advise that you don’t read the book. Why? Because once you’ve read the book no version of the story will do unless it’s told straight from Louie Zamperini. And he died in July.
Critics have said “Unbroken” the movie could have been a lot better. As someone who has read Hillenbrand’s book I agree. The story of Olympic runner turned Japanese POW Louie Zamperini is as amazing as it is epic. The film doesn’t even come close to describing this American hero’s life. It does show a crucial part of it. The film focuses on Zamperini’s journey from high school track star, to Olympic runner, to World War II fighter, to stranded at sea solider, to a Japanese POW, and finally his return to America as a war hero.
Sounds pretty epic, right? You bet! But there’s so much more to his story. For one, when he was in the 1936 Olympics in Germany he didn’t win his race but he did set a record time and got to meet Hitler because of it. That moment was nowhere to be found in the film. The book made sure to give us an emotional connection with Zamperini’s stranded raft mates Mac and Phil, but the movie didn’t do these complicated characters justice.
The film also completely skips over Zamperini’s life after the war is over. We only get one of those short “this is what happened” texts at the end of the film. We don’t learn about how he met his wife or, more importantly, how he had PTSD which led him to be an alcoholic which he struggled with for many years before turning to God and turning his life around. We never get to see how he went back to Japan years later to forgive his captors or that his main torturer, “the Bird,” refused to meet with him.
Zamperini was a real anti-hero. He survived torture yet was tortured with PTSD years after he was liberated from the Japanese camp. He was a real example of a solider coming back from war and not knowing what he was supposed to do next. The book spends chapter after chapter describing how he dreamed every night of going back to Japan and strangling “the Bird” from his time as a POW. Zamperini was sick and raw and real. But we don’t get to see that side of him in Angelina Jolie’s film. We only see the glitzy war hero, not the rest of what made him so damn cool.
And it’s not all Jolie’s fault. Sure, I can’t stand her (most people can’t), but she did the best she could. Giving “Unbroken” bad reviews just because she directed it isn’t fair to her or the film. It’s impossible to make a book, especially one this long and detailed (it’s one thick book!) into a film that can include everything. What’s disappointing is that Jolie didn’t try harder in her directing or the Coen brothers didn’t try harder in their writing of the script to tell Louie’s full, beautiful, messy story. They only told the part they thought Hollywood and the Academy would eat up. And guess what? No one is going to buy it come Oscar time.