Under the Radar

Director Angelina Jolie Tells Louis Zamperini's Story in 'Unbroken'


Unbroken is one of those movies that arrives with the weight of enormous expectations. Louis Zamperini's story  was most recently told in Lauren Hillenbrand's bestselling book, a biography that touched millions of lives. At least 50 people over the last year or so have told me that it's their favorite book ever.

Making a film out of a such a beloved book is always a risk and crafting a film out of what could be five different movies (the story of a young delinquent, the experiences of an athlete at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the bravery of a man who survived 47 days at sea after a plane crash, the even more striking bravery of a man who survived a Japanese POW camp and the story of a WWII veteran who battled PTSD and put his life back together.


That's more like a 10-part HBO series than a 2-hour movie, but director Angelina Jolie enlisted the screenwriting talents of Oscar winners Joel and Ethan Coen to frame Zamperini's life in a way that could reach a mainstream movie audience.

Everyone involved with the movie from Jolie to the actors to Zamperini's children, insists that Louis personally picked the relatively inexperienced Jolie to helm the movie and he signed off on their approach to the script before he died earlier this year after filming was complete.


The video interview above makes it clear how much affinity she had with the story and how much impact he had on her life. Universal Pictures first acquired the rights to Zamperini's life story in 1957, almost sixty years ago. Jolie showed Louis an early cut of the film on her laptop at the hospital just before he died.

At a press day in New York City earlier this month, Jolie talked about her experiences making the film.

On why it was important to get a PG-13 rating for "Unbroken"

It was very important. I thought often in making this film about my children. My sons are of the age that is appropriate to see it. It's a movie for everybody, but I think it's one when you think about this great generation and the values they had and how they were as men, it's one that you want to raise our children and remind this generation of their sense of family, community, and honor, and pay respect to them.

And I want my children to know about men like Louis, so when they feel bad about themselves and they think all is lost, they know they’ve got something inside of them, because that’s what this story speaks to. It's what's in all of us. And you don’t have to be a perfect person or a saint or a hero. You know Louis was very flawed, very human, but he made great choices in the end.


On why this is a great Christmas movie

We wake up and we read the news, we see the events around the world, and we live in our communities and we're disheartened by so much and we feel overwhelmed and we don’t know what's possible. We want something to hold onto, something to believe in, something to give us strength. I was halfway through his book and I found myself inspired and on fire and feeling better and reminded of the strength of the human spirit and the strength of having a brother like Pete and what that is and to remind us to be that for each other and important that is to have that in your life. And I realized if this was having this effect on me, and I knew it had this effect on so many other people, isn't this what we needed to put forward into the world at this time? I believe it is and I'm very happy it's coming out during the holidays. I think it's a really important time. It's the right time.

On editing Louis' sprawling story down to a 2-hour movie.

I think that was the hardest thing. That was why it took since 1957, when Universal first got the rights to his life. We looked at the themes of his life. The Coen Brothers said something to me that helped me with it completely. They said when you put the book down and you have a certain feeling and certain understanding, that’s what the audience needs to feel when they walk out of the theater. That’s your job. If you literally put this book on film, you won't have a good movie and you'll do no service to anyone.

Faith is so important to Louis. Instead of it being a specific chapter where we put in all the experiences of his life, faith was represented from the beginning and represented all through the film in other characters but also in the sunrise and the darkness and the light and the struggle before he comes into the light. It wasn’t literally, technically as it was in the book, but the themes were the same.

On faith's role in her movie.

Louis said to make faith and forgiveness universal. He said this is about reaching everyone. This should speak to everyone and we were very clear on his parents' Catholic faith. We're very clear on Phil's faith, very clear on him praying. If you are looking for symbolism and miracles in the film, you will see them.

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