I spent the weekend with Angelina Jolie.
On Friday night I watched her transform herself from a wicked witch into a fairy godmother. It was Disney’s version of Sleeping Beauty, complete with monsters and sassy creatures with gossamer wings, and ever-sparkling skies.
The film was Maleficent, and the beautiful Ms. Jolie was less than magnificent. She was also less than beautiful, with her massive black horns, Spock-like ears, and cheekbones implanted with what looked like chopsticks. She also wore lipstick that was too red for her face and made her lips look abnormally bloated. Moreover, she pouted a lot and her smile was never anything but sinister.
Maleficent was okay if you like fairy tales, and it was certainly more engaging than A Walk in the Woods.’
On Saturday night I saw a spectacular movie that Angelina Jolie wasn’t in. Instead, she did a masterful job of directing it.
The film was Unbroken, and it was actually a Holocaust story transposed to the Far East. It was the true story of Louis Zamperini and the horrors he endured on his way to, and in, Japanese prison camps during World War II.
A biography, written by Laura Hillenbrand, called A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption became a harrowing screenplay by the multiple award-winning Coen brothers, and the film was shot in Australia with a band of actors mostly unknown in the United States.
Playing Zamperini was a handsome, earnest Jack O’Connell as an Army bombardier being shot out of the skies—twice. The second time he and two crew members survived, struggling to board a yellow lifeboat. The rest of the crew sank with the crippled plane.
Flashbacks interspersed throughout the film indicate the kind of boy Zamperini was. He was a troublemaker, picked on by his schoolmates because his parents spoke only Italian. But fortunately, he had an older brother who set him straight and worked ceaselessly to help him become a champion runner. That training paid off when Louie went to Germany to compete in the 1936 Olympics.
Meanwhile, back in the lifeboat, Louie and his two crewmates boiled in the unrelenting sun, caught fish and sharks and albatrosses and ate them raw, trapped rainwater for drinking, and drifted in the Pacific Ocean for 47 days.
One of the men eventually died, but Louie and his buddy Phil lived to be rescued by Japanese sailors. Although “rescued” is hardly the word for it, as they were trundled to prison camps where the guards rivaled the Nazis in their cruelty.
The head guard, Sgt. Watanabe, especially resented Louie for his prowess as an Olympic athlete and took every opportunity to beat him and leave him unconscious, lying in the dirt with his wounds.
Ironically, the man who played Watanabe is a Japanese rock star who had never acted before, but Jolie saw in him a presence that would fit perfectly into the role. His name is Miyavi, and he became the very personification of a vindictive psychotic.
Eventually, Zamperini came home, but he took many years to get over his PTSD and during that time he lived as a drunkard and a ne’er-do-well. Finally, at an assembly run by Billy Graham, he changed his life and became a born-again Christian. From that time on he spent the rest of his life devoted to his faith and seeking redemption.
He also returned to Japan to forgive and reconcile with his one-time torturers. Except for Watanabe, who refused to see him.
He also returned at the age of 80 to carry the torch on the last leg of the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
Louis Zamperini died on July 2, 2014, at the age of 97.
Unbroken opened in Los Angeles on Christmas Day and can currently be seen in theaters all over the city.