When it comes to stepping behind the camera, Angelina Jolie has experienced different forms of warfare. Her first directorial contribution, In the Land of Blood and Honey, released in 2011, examined ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Herzogovinia during the 1990s.
The film, which concernes a romantic relationship between Alija (Zana Marjanovic), – an artist and a Muslim – and Danijel (Goran Kostic), a cop who also happens to be a Bosnian Serb – received strong reviews and a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
Now Jolie has returned to the front line, albeit one of a slightly different nature, thanks to her second directorial contribution, Unbroken, a World War 11 drama set against the backdrop of the Pacific theatre during the final years of the conflict.
Based on Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling novel, released in 2010, entitled Unbroken: A World War 11 Story of Survival, Resiliance and Redemption, the film shows the transformation of Louis Zamperini (Jack O’ Connell) – the youngest son of Italian immigrants – from teen delinquent – with a knack for getting into brawls and other forms of trouble – into a beacon of inspiration for his country.
“Like the millions of readers who find themselves unable to put down the book once they start it, I was drawn into the incredible story of Louie’s journey and Laura’s brilliant re- creation and rich documentation of pivotal events that shape the last century. “
With inspiration from his older brother, Louis – growing up in Torrance California – channels his energy into a talent for running – a skill which earns him a slot at the 1936 Munich Olympics.
But any further aspirations are put on hold when the flames of war spread throughout Europe. Instead, Zamperini becomes an Army Air Corps Bombadier embarks on numerous missions across the Pacific and, in 1943, suffers a twist of fate when his plane crashes into the Pacific. As a result of the crash, caused by engine failure, 11 crew members are killed on impact.
The only survivors, who drift in a tiny raft for many weeks after the crash, are Zamperini,, Russell Allen “Phil” Philips (Domhnall Gleeson) and Sgt. Francis “Mac” McNamara (Finn Wittrock), the plane’s tail gunner. Mac eventually dies of hunger, dehydration and exhaustion, while the remaining airmen are captured by Japanese forces and thrown straight into POW camps.
“I was intrigued by the draft I read,” says Jolie, “but it was after I read Laura’s book that I knew I wanted to direct the film. “
Like many other readers, Jolie says she was drawn into the story of Zamperini’s experiences and loved Laura’s recreation of his memoirs.
“Louie’s generation came out of the Depression,” Jolie continues. “They were tough, strong, worked hard and had a sense of family and community that sustained them through tremendous adversity. When they were called on to serve their country they were such young boys, but they went. They did such a service for us, no matter how frightened they were, no matter how far from home.”
Jolie later discovered that Zamperini was her neighbor. She jokes that he could see the roof of her house from his living room window.
“Little did I know that he’d been right there all the time…all the while I was trying to figure out what to do next with my life.”
Once she committed to the project, Jolie spent hours learning Zamperini’s story. It wasn’t just about the 1936 Olympics – the filmmaker would need to capture notion of being adrift in the ocean for more than 40 days and then show the terror experienced by Zamperini and his comrades in the POW camp.
During this time, meanwhile, Louie heard that a big Hollywood actress would be telling his story. It took some time to grasp the fact but it wasn’t too long before he welcomed the filmmaker into his extended family. Prior to his death last July, the war veteran gave the following quote.
“Angie called and said she was going to direct the movie,” Zemperini said prior to his death. “I’d only seen her on the news because I don’t go to the movies anymore. But I knew that they called her the most beautiful girl in the world. Then she came to the house. What a doll! What a sweetheart! I saw right away she’s got not only beauty but brains. She’s very considerate, and she has a charitable heart. I thought, ‘What else do you need?’”
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Angelinia Jolie
Stars: Jack O’ Connell, Domhnall Gleeson, Miyavi, Garrett Hedlund and Finn Wittrock
Producers: Angelina Jolie, Clayton Townsend, Matthew Baer and Erwin Stoff
Executive Producers: Mick Garris, Thomas Tull and Jon Jashni
Screenwriters: Joel and Ethan Cohen and Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson
Quote Source: Universal Pictures Production Notes