I’m sitting here at the kitchen table, scratching my head, and still not knowing what to say about Unbroken, more than twelve hours after I saw it. I ended up seeing it by myself, by the way, because two of my younger siblings weren’t allowed to see it and my older sister didn’t want to see it without ClearPlay. (I’m glad I saw it in the theater because it’s so much more real that way, but I think I’ll be seeing it with ClearPlay from now on. Heh… heh… [Click here to read more about ClearPlay.])
Okay, I’ll just go for it. Excuse the mess that is sure to follow. ; )
“After a near-fatal plane crash in WWII, Olympian Louis Zamperini spends a harrowing 47 days in a raft with two fellow crewmen before he’s caught by the Japanese navy and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.” (From IMDb)
To me, that just barely describes it.
I first heard about Louis when everybody else heard about him – back in 2010 when Laura Hillenbrand released her biography of his life. I didn’t think it’d be interesting and assumed it was just another boring biography about another WWII veteran. (“Shame, shame, shame!”) I kept hearing about it, but kept putting it off, thinking I might get to it sometime. Then the trailer for the movie came out. I instantly put it on hold at my library. I devoured the book in less than a week – no easy feat, as it’s almost five hundred pages and I read it during a school week – and then watched the trailer again. And cried.
You see, this isn’t “just another boring biography about another WWII veteran.” For one, we should never assume that each veteran’s story is the same. Every person is unique, just like their story. Louie’s story is about as unique as you can get. From Torrance, California to a POW camp in Japan, the man went though so much – and lived to tell about it! More than that, Louie found God after the war and forgave all of his captors. To me, that’s amazing. The tagline of the film is “Survival. Resilience. Redemption.” I think that sums it up very well.
The Cast and Characters
(Trying to refrain from saying “characters” in the following paragraphs because they’re NOT characters – they’re real people. If I slip up, excuse my pardon.)
Louie goes first. Obviously. He’s such a deep person. He started out as a stereotypical troublemaker, and changed into an amazing man full of tenacity and resilience and strength. I know I wouldn’t be able to go through all of the things he went through – training for the Olympics, being a bombardier on a B-24, floating on a raft with no food or water for forty-seven days, only to be “rescued” by the Japanese and thrown in not one but TWO prisoner of war camps (where the POWs were hidden), and then truly rescued after WWII ended… and suffering from PTSD until he finally found peace through Jesus and was able to forgive. He’s a true hero. He’s my hero.
Jack O’Connell is now one of my favorite actors. If he doesn’t get an Academy Award (along with Sebastian Stan for Captain America: The Winter Soldier), I’ll probably think seriously about suing. Every little mannerism, every emotion – it all was amazing. If I could have stepped through the screen and given him a hug, I would’ve. It didn’t even seem like acting. As I watched the movie, I found myself wondering how Jack recovered from all of the beatings because they must have actually been beating him up. That, or he’s an amazing actor. Either way, I’m going to be watching him in the future.
Russell Allen “Phil” Phillips goes next because, in my opinion, he’s the second main character. And, if I may be so bold, almost the true hero of Louie’s life. Without his steady influence, I don’t think Louie would have ever become a Christian. Phil is the pilot of the aircrew that Louie joins, and from then on – to the rest of their lives – they’re best friends. In fact, one of my favorite lines in the book (that was also in the movie) is Phil telling Louie after they were two of the three men who survived the crash in the Pacific, “I’m glad it was you.” (To which Louie jokingly replies, “I’m glad it was me, too.”) Their relationship is so unique and special – closer than brothers, trusting the other with everything from the moment the plane hit the water. Another thing that I love about him was that he was always so calm, even in the cockpit during their missions. Phil was a Christian before he met Louie, and I believe that is was his Christian witness that eventually influenced Louie to later become a Christian. To me, that’s what makes a true hero. (Spoiler Alert! A side note about Phil in the movie – I was absolutely certain that Angie and the preproduction team would condense the story and the two prison camps that Louie was in would be mashed into one and Phil would be in the same camp as Louie. Wrong on both accounts. When Phil and Louie were split up after the raft scene, my soul was crushed. End Spoiler Alert)
Domhnall Gleeson, who played Phil, was fantastic. He did his research on Phil, and he completely blew me away. I sometimes get a little nervous about book-to-film adaptions because I wonder if the directors, screenwriters, actors, etc will “do a good job” with the characters that I love. I was especially anxious about Phil (and all of the people in Louie’s story) because they’re real people. He had such a deep friendship with Louie. I couldn’t believe how spot-on Domhnall got it right. In fact, the two times I all-out cried were scenes with Phil and Louie. He was exactly the way I pictured Phil, and he made me love Phil even more, after watching everything he and Louie went through on the big screen.
Mutsushiro Watanabe “The Bird” is the antagonist in Louie’s story… and I’ve never seen worse. From the moment Louie enters his prison camp, he singles Louie out and beats him every day. But he’s more twisted than that. He often apologizes to Louie after beating him… then continues to hit him with his bamboo stick, sometimes even tossing it aside to use his fists. He demands honor and is the most authoritative officer in the prison camp, even though he’s not the highest-ranking. He’s sadistic and evil. I still can’t believe that Louie forgave him in the end… and I also can’t believe that the US granted him amnesty a few years after the war in an effort to make peace with Japan. Ugh. Anyway, that’s just another reason Louie is my hero.
Takamasa Ishihara – or, as he’s better known, Miyavi – is a rockstar in Japan. He’s used to crowds falling in love with him and being in awe of him, which is why Angelina Jolie cast him as The Bird. Unbroken is his acting debut and, if I didn’t know any better, I would’ve thought he was a famous actor. But he’s not. He had to learn English to be in the movie. He connected with The Bird so much that, after beating Jack one day, he started sobbing and threw up. I’m having a hard time saying good things about him because of my strong dislike of the person he played, but he was fantastic.
Next is Pete Zamperini, Louie’s older brother. Without him, Louie wouldn’t have started running. Pete was a runner first, and saw the potential in Louie as Louie ran away from the police. He edged him on – sometimes even calling him names – and wouldn’t give up on him. One of my favorite lines in the movie was when Louie was a young boy, tried from training. Pete wouldn’t stop pushing him, and Louie thought he had reached his breaking point. He didn’t think he could do any better. “I’m nothing, Pete. Just let me be nothing.” To which Pete replied with a firm, “No. If you can take it, you can make it.” (Both lines were echoed in the movie… bringing me to tears.) Alex Russell was great as Pete, and I wouldn’t have changed the casting at all.
John Fitzgerald is my next favorite person in Louie’s story. He’s the highest-ranking POW at the prison camp, and he makes sure that his men are treated as well as can be expected. He’s given a slightly larger part because someone in the development process decided that a lot of Louie’s friends in the prison camp should be mashed into one – Fitzgerald – which makes him pretty deep and awesome. I missed Harris and Garrett and Wade and Tinker (who had a few lines but not as big a role in the movie as he did in Louie’s life), but I understood why they were taken out. (Although you did see a guy tracing a map – who got beat up after it was found – and I smiled to myself, knowing it was Harris.) I’ve seen Garrett Hedlund in a movie before – he was Murtagh in Eragon, one of my favorite characters in the Inheritance Cycle (muahahaha) – and he did such a great job as Fitzgerald. He was strong and deep and I love him.
Honorable mentions: Finn Wittrock as Francis “Mac” McNamara – I never sympathized with him more than I did after watching the film. C.J. Valleroy as Young Louie and John D’Leo as Young Pete – Both were fantastic and connected with their characters.
This movie is intense, to say the least. Definitely not for the faint of heart. It contains numerous scenes of war-time fighting, scenes where POWs – especially Louie – are beat up, a scene where Louie is punched repeatedly in the face by all two hundred POWs, and close-ups of bloody injuries. It also contains several “bad words,” all of which are stated in the PluggedIn review. There’s also a male nudity scene (rear only), but girls can close their eyes and not miss anything. Louie drinks alcohol as a boy.
To quote the PluggedIn review, Unbroken is “hard to watch but easy to praise.” Everything that Louie went through makes the end of the story – the fact that he forgave his captors for everything they did to him – so much more inspiring. If Louie can make it through all of the trials he was forced to endure, then find redemption and the ability to forgive, can’t we forgive those who have done so much less to us – including our parents, siblings, and friends? That’s what this movie should awaken in the hearts of all who see it – the power to forgive those who have wronged us.
My recommendation: Go see the movie, then read the book, then take a deeper look into Louie’s life through the various documentaries about his life and the two books he wrote.