The new movie “Unbroken: The Path to Redemption” tells the post World War II story of Olympian and former POW Louis Zamperini, the subject of Laura Hillenbrand’s New York Times best-selling book “Unbroken.”
The film, which opens nationwide on Friday, Sept. 14, is the sequel to the successful Angelina Jolie directed production “Unbroken” released by Universal Pictures in 2014.
The original movie covered Zamperini’s highly eventful early life taking him from a troubled Italian-American kid growing up in Southern California in the 1920s and 1930s, to a record-breaking collegiate runner at the University of Southern California. He went on to compete in the 1936 Olympic games in Adolf Hitler’s Berlin.
World War II intervened, dashing the young runner’s hopes of winning Olympic gold in what would have been the 1940 games.
Instead, Zamperini found himself in the Army Air Corps fighting in the South Pacific as a member of a B-24 Liberator bomber flight crew.
When his plane was shot down, the American serviceman was one of only three to survive the crash. He then made it through a harrowing 47 days on a raft at sea, followed by over two years as a prisoner of the Japanese.
Jolie’s movie ended with Zamperini overcoming his war ordeals and getting to return to the U.S. as an American hero. “Unbroken: Path to Redemption” picks up where that story left off.
“When the war ended, his battle began,” is the tagline for the new film.
After returning from the war, Zamperini did what many of his fellow veterans did: found the love of his life and started a family. But he could not shake the trauma the years of war and brutal captivity had wrought upon his psyche.
He experienced horrifying nightmares, fits of rage, depression and other signs of what we would today call post-traumatic stress disorder.
Zamperini self-medicated with alcohol, which only caused his life to spin further out of control and deeper into despair.
One night he dreamed he was strangling “The Bird,” a Japanese prison guard who had made his life a living hell, but woke up to find he was actually choking his wife.
Zamperini’s emotionally erratic and violent behavior brought his marriage to his wife Cynthia to the breaking point. She wanted a divorce not only to protect herself, but the couple’s young daughter. However, by Zamperini’s telling, that’s when God stepped in.
Cynthia attended evangelist Billy Graham’s first major crusade in Los Angeles in 1949 and came to faith in Jesus Christ. She left believing that she was not meant to divorce her husband, but began to pray earnestly for him. Eventually, Cynthia convinced Zamperini to attend Graham’s crusade, which went on night-after-night for weeks.
Will Graham — Franklin Graham’s son and Billy Graham’s grandson — plays his grandfather in the new film.
“Acting was nowhere on my radar that’s for sure,” Graham, who is a preacher in real life, told NBC’s “Today” earlier this week. “But it was a great privilege and a great honor not just to play my granddaddy, but to be in a big story, Louie Zamperini’s life story.”
In “Unbroken,” Graham delivers part of the very sermon his grandfather gave that night in 1949 when Zamperini came to faith in God.
The subject of the sermon was why God allows evil in the world and what man’s response should be.
The message met Zamperini where he was and he came forward to receive Jesus.
The war hero recounted from that moment on the nightmares stopped, and he was freed from alcoholism. Zamperini also forgave all those who had done him wrong during the war, including The Bird.
Zamperini died in July 2014 at the age of 97, just about six months before the original film “Unbroken” was released. Jolie had shown him a rough cut of the movie before he passed. Interesting, Billy Graham died in February of this year at the age of 99, a little more than six months before the sequel hit theaters.
Hillenbrand has given the new film her seal of approval.
“Exploring the extraordinary post-war journey of Olympian and WWII POW Louis Zamperini, ‘Unbroken: Path to Redemption’ is a lyrical, profoundly moving film, a story told with integrity, honesty and compelling beauty,” she said.
Hillenbrand added, the movie “captures not just the drama of his years, but the brave, grand-hearted and profoundly inspiring man he was.”
“Unbroken: The Path to Redemption” is directed by Harold Cronk, whose other credits include “God’s Not Dead” (2014) and “Jerusalem Countdown” (2011).
It is produced by Matt Baer, who also produced the original “Unbroken” film.
The movie is distributed by Universal 1440 Entertainment (a subdivision of Universal Pictures), The WTA Group (promoter of many Christian films such as “I Can Only Imagine” and “Heaven is for Real”), and Pure Flix, which has released multiple faith-based films including the “God’s Not Dead” series.
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