Unbroken: Angelina Jolie’s inspiring WWII drama

By Melissa Platero, CCNN Writer

Unbroken running
Before Louis Zamperini became a World War II hero, he was an Olympic runner.

Angelina Jolie has taken the director’s chair once again, for the inspiring true story about a World War II veteran and Olympian named Louis “Louie” Zamperini. The 97-year-old American hero passed away recently, but his memory lives on in Unbroken, which released on Christmas.

At the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany, Zamperini finished 8th in the 5,000 meter distance event. However, his final lap of 56 seconds was so fast that the country’s Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler, asked to meet him. As Hitler shook his hand, he said, “Ah, you’re the boy with the fast finish.”

Later, when World War II ignited between the Allies –  the USA, Russia, and Britain – and the Axis powers – Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Japan, and Italy – Zamperini soon found himself very far away from that handshake… as a US Army Air Force soldier! After surviving a deadly plane crash in 1942, he stayed alive for 47 days in a raft, where he only had rainwater to drink and small raw fish to eat. He and 2 survivors fought off shark attacks, were nearly hurled from the raft by a storm, and were shot at multiple times by a Japanese bomber. On the 47th day, Zamperini managed to reach an island, only to be caught by the Japanese Navy.

Taken prisoner and locked up in a brutal prisoner-of-war camp, Zamperini was beaten and mistreated until the war was over in August, 1945. His personal torturer was a wicked man named Mutsuhiro Watanabe, nicknamed “The Bird”, who was so bad he was included by the USA in a top 40 list of Japan’s most wanted war criminals. After returning home, where many thought Zamperini had died, he received a hero’s welcome. For his 81st birthday, in January 1998, the former Olympian ran a part of the Olympic Torch relay for the Winter Olympics, where several runners pass the torch until it’s lit at the opening ceremony.

Jolie’s epic flick was adapted from author Laura Hillenbrand’s book, which is also called Unbroken. Jolie first met Zamperini last winter when she decided to direct Unbroken. Zamperini was impressed by her, remarking, “Angelina is a human dynamo, and I know she will tell this story in the right way.” As for Jolie, she was humbled to direct the movie. “Like all readers of Laura’s book and all people who love and admire Louis, I am a fan. It will be hard to make a film worthy of this great man. I am deeply honored to have the chance.” After hearing about his death, she said, “We are all so grateful for how enriched our lives are for having known him. We will miss him terribly.” Unfortunately, she was unable to make the premiere due to chickenpox, but husband Brad Pitt was there to greet fans.

Images courtesy of Universal Pictures.