Unbroken is a 2014 American biographical sports action drama war film produced and directed by Angelina Jolie and written by the Coen brothers, Richard LaGravenese, and William Nicholson.
It is based on the 2010 non-fiction book by Laura Hillenbrand, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. The film stars Jack O’Connell as American Olympian and Army officer Louis “Louie” Zamperini and Miyavi as Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) corporal Mutsuhiro Watanabe. Zamperini survived in a raft for 47 days after his bomber ditched in the ocean during the Second World War, before being captured by the Japanese and being sent to a series of prisoner of war camps.
During an April 1943 bombing mission against the Japanese-held island of Nauru, Louis “Louie” Zamperini is flying as a bombardier of a United States Army Air Forces B-24 Liberator when his plane is damaged in combat and a number of the crew injured. The pilot brings the aircraft to a stop at the end of the runway despite an exploded tire.
In a flashback to his early youth as an Italian-American boy in Torrance, California, Louie misbehaves by stealing, drinking liquor and smoking. He is often picked on by others for his Italian ethnicity. His brother Peter, seeing how fast Louie runs, trains him to be a runner. Louie becomes a disciplined distance runner, earning the nickname “The Torrance Tornado”. Louie finishes 8th in the 1936 Summer Olympics and sets a record in the final lap for the 5,000-meter race.
Returning to his 1943 combat service, Louie leaves with some of the surviving crew and several replacements on a search-and-rescue mission with an old plane. One engine fails and the aircraft ultimately crashes in the ocean. Louie survives alongside two others, Phil and Mac, floating on two inflatable rafts.
On their 27th day adrift, they attract the attention of a Japanese fighter plane, which strafes and damages the rafts but fortunately misses them. Mac dies six days later. On the 47th day, Japanese sailors find and capture Louie and Phil. Now prisoners of war, Louie and Phil are imprisoned on Kwajalein Atoll. The American airmen are interrogated for info on newer bombers and the Norden bombsight. Louie states they flew older models and draws a rendering of a Philco radio. They are dragged out to disrobe and kneel on planks, expecting to be executed. Instead, they are crudely washed and shipped to Japan. Upon arrival, they are sent to different POW camps.
At camp Ōmori, in Tokyo, Louis and his fellow POWs are the responsibility of Japanese corporal Mutsuhiro Watanabe who is especially hard on Louie, beating him often. Louie is given an opportunity to broadcast a message home saying he is alive after learning the US government classified him as killed in action (KIA). As he refuses to broadcast another message full of anti-American propaganda, he is sent back to camp, where Watanabe has each prisoner punch him.
After two years, Watanabe is promoted to Sergeant and leaves the camp. The camp is damaged when Tokyo was bombed, so Louie and the others are moved to Naoetsu prison camp. Here, Watanabe is again in command but has now been promoted to Sergeant, so he supervises the prisoners at work loading coal barges. Louie pauses during work and is punished by Watanabe making him lift a large wooden beam and hold it over his head. He orders a guard to shoot him if he drops it, but Louie defiantly holds it up despite his exhaustion. This enrages Watanabe as Louie stares him straight in the eye, provoking him to beat him severely.
At the end of the war, Louie and the other POWs are liberated when the Americans occupy Japan just as a bomber flies overhead and confirms that the war is over. Louie tries to find Watanabe in his quarters but sees he has already fled. He sits down, staring at a picture of Watanabe as a child alongside his father. He is returned home to America, where he kisses the ground on arriving home.
At the end of the film, there is a slideshow of the real Louie and the events in his life following the war: He married and had two children. Phil too survived and married. Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe went into hiding and evaded prosecution despite being on the top 40 most-wanted Japanese war criminals list by General Douglas MacArthur. Louie lived out his promise to convert to Christianity, to devote his life to God and to forgive his wartime captors, meeting with many of them. Many years later, however, Watanabe still refused to meet with Louie.
Louie had an opportunity to relive his time as an Olympian when he ran a leg of the Olympic Torch relay for the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. He was four days short of his 81st birthday, on a stretch not far from one of the POW camps where he was held. The closing titles reveal that Louie Zamperini died on 02 July 2014, at the age of 97.
- Jack O’Connell as Captain Louis “Louie” Zamperini, a former Olympian and bombardier who is held in captivity by the Japanese.
- C.J. Valleroy as young Louis Zamperini
- Domhnall Gleeson as Lieutenant Russell “Phil” Phillips, Louie’s companion at sea and his capture.
- Garrett Hedlund as Lieutenant Commander John Fitzgerald (captain of submarine USS Grenadier).
- Miyavi as Sergeant Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe, a sadistic prison camp commander who treats Louie cruelly.
- Finn Wittrock as T-3 Staff Sergeant Francis “Mac” McNamara.
- Jai Courtney as Lieutenant Charlton Hugh “Cup” Cupernell.
- Luke Treadaway as Miller.
- Spencer Lofranco as Harry Brooks.
- Travis Jeffery as Jimmy.
- Jordan Patrick Smith as Cliff.
- John Magaro as Frank A. Tinker.
- Alex Russell as Pete Zamperini, Louie’s brother.
- John D’Leo as Young Pete.
- Vincenzo Amato as Anthony Zamperini.
- Louis McIntosh as William Federick Harris.
- Ross Anderson as Blackie.
- Maddalena Ischiale as Louise Zamperini, Louie’s mother.
- Savannah Lamble as Sylvia Zamperini, Louie’s younger sister.
- Sophie Dalah as Virginia Zamperini, Louie’s second younger sister.
Universal Pictures purchased the rights to the book in January 2011, having already acquired the film rights to Zamperini’s life story towards the end of the 1950s. Early drafts for the film were written by William Nicholson and Richard LaGravenese while Francis Lawrence was scheduled to direct. Joel and Ethan Coen were then tapped to rewrite the script after Jolie was named director.
On 30 September 2013, Jolie was confirmed to direct the film in Australia. Jolie was paid a $1 million salary for directing the film. Walden Media was originally set as Universal’s co-financier, but withdrew from the project prior to filming and were subsequently replaced by Legendary Pictures. The filming was based in New South Wales and Queensland, with scenes also shot in Fox Studios Australia and Village Roadshow Studios.
Principal photography began on 16 October 2013, in Queensland, Australia and ended on 04 February 2014, with post-production also being done in Australia.
Some of the scenes were shot at sea in Moreton Bay on 16 October 2013. On 14 December four days of filming were completed in Werris Creek, New South Wales.
The POW “Coal” scenes were all filmed at Cockatoo Island (New South Wales).
The official film soundtrack was released on 15 December 2014, through Parlophone and Atlantic Records. The film score was composed by Alexandre Desplat. The album also features “Miracles”, a song written and recorded by British alternative rock band Coldplay, which was released digitally as a single on 15 December.
Unbroken grossed $115.6 million in the U.S. and Canada and $47.6 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $163 million, against a budget of $65 million.
The film opened in North America on 25 December 2014, across 3,131 theatres and grossed $15.6 million on its opening day (including Christmas Eve previews) which is the third-biggest Christmas Day debut ever, behind Les Misérables ($18 million), and Sherlock Holmes ($24 million) and the fifth-biggest Christmas Day gross ever. The film was one of the four widely released films on 25 December 2014, the other three being Walt Disney’s Into the Woods (2,478 theatres), Paramount Pictures’ The Gambler (2,478 theatres) and TWC’s Big Eyes (1,307 theatres). It earned $31,748,000 in its traditional three-day opening weekend (including its revenue from Christmas Day it earned $47.3 million) debuting at #2 at the box office behind The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies setting a record for the third-biggest Christmas debut behind Sherlock Holmes ($62 million) and Marley & Me ($36 million). and fourth biggest among World War II theme movies. It was the eighth film that earned $25 million plus in its debut weekend for Universal Pictures and the fifth $30 million plus debut for an “original” movie following Lone Survivor, Ride Along, Neighbours and Lucy.
Prior to the film’s release, some Japanese nationalists asked for the film and the director to be banned from their country, largely because of a part in Hillenbrand’s book, which was not depicted in the film, where she writes “POWs were beaten, burned, stabbed, or clubbed to death, shot, beheaded, killed during medical experiments, or eaten alive in ritual acts of cannibalism” by the Imperial Japanese Army. A petition on Change.org calling for a ban attracted more than 10,000 signatures. In response, it triggered a Change.org petition by Dutch Indonesian group The Indo Project voicing support for the movie, as they saw it as a reflection of what their family members in the former Dutch East Indies experienced in Japanese camps. Several prominent Dutch Indos (including those who are not descendants of former POWs), such as author Adriaan van Dis, Doe Maar frontman Ernst Jansz, and actress Wieteke van Dort, signed the petition in support of the film. Another petition on Change.org calling for a release of the film in Japan, this time in Japanese, gathered more than 1,200 signatures. The film was eventually released in Japan on 06 February 2016, by independent distributor Bitters End on a much smaller scale than originally intended, while Toho-Towa, the usual distributor of Universal titles, had passed on releasing the film.
The film received some criticism for omitting Zamperini’s fight against alcoholism and PTSD, as well as his Billy Graham-inspired religious conversion.
Unbroken was released on 24 March 2015 in the United States in two formats: a one-disc standard DVD and a Blu-ray Combo pack (Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy).
A faith-based film also based on Hillenbrand’s book, titled Unbroken: Path to Redemption, which depicts later events of Zamperini’s life than those depicted in Unbroken, was released by Pure Flix Entertainment on 14 September 2018. It was directed by Harold Cronk with the script written by Richard Friedenberg and Ken Hixon. Aside from producer Matthew Baer and actors Vincenzo Amato and Maddalena Ischiale, who reprised the roles of Anthony and Louise Zamperini, none of the original cast or crew was involved in the new film. Legendary Pictures also had no involvement with the sequel.
- The real Louis Zamperini passed away on 02 July 2014.
- He was able to watch a rough cut of the film on director Angelina Jolie’s laptop while in the hospital before he passed.
- While Zamperini and Phil are floating out at sea on the raft, the picture of a woman that Phil looks at is actually the real photo of his sweetheart and later wife, provided by his daughter to Angelina Jolie during filming.
- Despite being a born-again Christian, Louis Zamperini requested that the film not delve too deeply into his religion, as he wanted his experiences with faith and forgiveness to reach the audience on a universal level.
- Gunnar Höckert, the Finnish runner shown winning the gold medal in the 1936 Berlin Olympics was also a casualty of the Second World War.
- He went to the Winter War as a volunteer and was killed on the Karelian Isthmus just one day before his 30th birthday in February 1940.
- Miyavi found performing the scene in which Zamperini is forced to hold a beam over his head at gunpoint so upsetting and intense that he vomited on set.
- Universal Studios bought the rights to the story of Louis Zamperini in 1957 in the hope of developing it for Tony Curtis.
- In later years, Nicolas Cage expressed an interest.
- The project finally got the green light after Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 book about Zamperini became a best-seller.
- After the war, Mutsuhiro Watanabe “The Bird” owned a vacation condominium on The Gold Coast in Australia, which is coincidentally where much of the movie was filmed.
Production & Filming Details
- Angelina Jolie.
- Matthew Baer … producer.
- Mick Garris … executive producer.
- Holly Goline … co-producer.
- Jon Jashni … executive producer.
- Angelina Jolie … producer.
- Joseph P. Reidy … co-producer.
- Erwin Stoff … producer.
- Clayton Townsend … producer.
- Thomas Tull … executive producer.
- Michael Vieira … co-producer.
- Nathan Wiley … producer: bts.
- Joel Coen … (screenplay).
- Ethan Coen … (screenplay).
- Richard LaGravenese … (screenplay).
- William Nicholson … (screenplay).
- Laura Hillenbrand … (book).
- Alexandre Desplat.
- Roger Deakins … director of photography.
- William Goldenberg.
- Tim Squyres.
- 3 Arts Entertainment.
- Jolie Pas.
- Legendary Entertainment.
- Universal Pictures (2014) (USA) (theatrical).
- Bitters End (2016) (Japan) (theatrical).
- Columbia Pictures (2015) (Philippines) (theatrical) (as UIP-Columbia Pictures).
- United International Pictures (UIP) (2015) (Argentina) (theatrical) (through).
- United International Pictures (UIP) (2015) (Greece) (theatrical).
- United International Pictures (UIP) (2015) (Hungary) (theatrical).
- United International Pictures (UIP) (2015) (Philippines) (theatrical) (as UIP-Columbia Pictures).
- United International Pictures (UIP) (2015) (Singapore) (theatrical).
- Universal Pictures Argentina (2015) (Argentina) (theatrical) (through United International Pictures).
- Universal Pictures International (UPI) (2015) (Germany) (theatrical).
- Universal Pictures International (UPI) (2015) (France) (theatrical).
- Universal Pictures International (UPI) (2014) (UK) (theatrical).
- Universal Pictures International (UPI) (2015) (Belgium) (theatrical).
- Universal Pictures International (UPI) (2015) (Netherlands) (theatrical).
- Westec Media Limited (2015) (Cambodia) (theatrical).
- Home Box Office (HBO) (2015) (Netherlands) (TV) (limited).
- KVH Media Group (2015) (World-wide) (all media) (ships).
- NOS Audiovisuais (2015) (Portugal) (all media).
- Net5 (2017) (Netherlands) (TV).
- Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (2015) (Argentina) (Blu-ray).
- Universal Pictures Home Entertainment (2015) (Argentina) (DVD).
- Universal Pictures (2015) (Germany) (Blu-ray).
- Universal Pictures (2015) (Germany) (DVD).
- Universal Pictures (2015) (Netherlands) (Blu-ray).
- Universal Pictures (2015) (Netherlands) (DVD).
- Release Date: 17 November 2014 (Sydney, Australia) (Premiere).
- Rating: 15.
- Running Time: 137 minutes.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.