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Movie Review

Unbroken also known as “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption”

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for war violence including intense sequences of brutality, and for brief language.

Reviewed by: John Decker

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Primary Audience:
Action Biography War Sports Drama Adaptation
2 hr. 17 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
December 25, 2014 (wide—3,131 theaters)
January 2, 2015 (3,190)
January 9, 2015 (3,301)
DVD: March 24, 2015
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Relevant Issues
Copyright, Universal Pictures

importance of faith, hope, courage, self-sacrifice, perseverance, and FORGIVENESS

“Hate is self-destructive.” (Louis Zamperini, CBS interview, “A war hero's ‘Unbroken’ bond with his biographer”)

prisoner of war camps / war crimes

Louis Zamperini—His wife and he became born-again Christians after attending Billy Graham crusades. “He said as soon as he made his decision for Christ he forgave his captors and never had another nightmare again. Later Graham helped Zamperini launch a new career as a Christian inspirational speaker.” (Wikipedia article)

See short 1976 interview text: Louis Zamperini

Article: Louis Zamperini Remains “Unbroken”

“In October 1950, Zamperini went to Japan, gave his testimony, and preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ through an interpreter.” The colonel in charge of the Sugamo Prison encouraged any of the prisoners who recognized Zamperini to come forward and meet him again. “Zamperini threw his arms around each of them. Once again, he explained the Christian Gospel of forgiveness to them. The prisoners were somewhat surprised by Zamperini's genuine affection for those who had once ill-treated him,” and Zamperini says “some gave their lives to Christ.”

See short biography: Louis Zamperini (InTouch Ministries)

Article: Evangelist Greg Laurie Disappointed Director Angelina Jolie Chose to Leave Out World War II Hero's Christian Faith in 'Unbroken' Movie

CBS report video on-line: “A war hero's "Unbroken" bond with his biographer”

FEAR, Anxiety and Worry—What does the Bible say? Answer

Featuring: Finn Wittrock … Francis 'Mac' McNamara
Jack O'Connell … Louis Zamperini
Jai Courtney … Hugh 'Cup' Cuppernell
Domhnall Gleeson … Russell Allen 'Phil' Phillips
Garrett Hedlund … John Fitzgerald
Alex Russell … Pete Zamperini
Spencer Lofranco … Harry Brooks
Luke Treadaway … Miller
Sophie Dalah … Virginia
Morgan Griffin … Cynthia Applewhite
John D'Leo … Young Pete
Sean O'Donnell … Boy(s) (voice)
John Magaro … Frank A. Tinker
Maddalena Ischiale … Louise Zamperini
more »
Director: Angelina Jolie—“In the Land of Blood and Honey” (2011)
Producer: 3 Arts Entertainment
Jolie Pas
Legendary Pictures
Distributor: Universal Pictures

“Survival. Resilience. Redemption.”

“Unbroken” is based on the life of Louis Zamperini, an American WWII war hero who passed away this year (1917–2014). Mr. Zamperini certainly had an exceptional life, not the least of which is his exceptional story of repentance and grace which occurred after enduring so much at the hands of the Japanese in concentration camps. That story of grace is film-worthy indeed, but you’re not going to get it in the film “Unbroken”. For all of what this movie contains, good or ill, it does not contain that story of grace but meagerly, in some text, at the very end of the film.

For me, personally, the disappointment of not getting his whole story, not just from a religious point of view but also from a film-goers perspective, was pronounced. I felt like I was dropped off at the end of Act II in a three act play. Does the film contain the story of Mr. Zamperini’s redemption to some extent? Well, the way it starts off, you might expect it to. Let’s just say that it does not write God out of his life entirely, and you certainly get some religious content here and there. But the magnificent story of Mr. Zamperini’s redemption is lost in “Unbroken”.

If you’re planning on seeing “Unbroken,” I highly recommend reading this article first.

The portrayal of war, endurance, torture and survival in this film are fairly well done. For the record, my wife liked it a lot more than I did. In “Unbroken,” you do get a good dose of what Mr. Zamperini’s life was like, though I do not find the way in which the story was told to be very compelling, which is surprising, considering the contributions by the award-winning Coen brothers.

The style of violence in “Unbroken” is largely not gory. The beatings are painful to behold, and the portrayal of war and suffering is tough to stomach, but the blood and guts are tempered for this genre.

As for sexuality, there are some Vargas pin-up posters, that is the largest extent of female body portrayal. At more than one point, a boy is looking up women’s skirts. There is not a whole lot of male nudity, perhaps none, with the exception of one very long scene which contains full backside nudity of two men. Part of the scene even flashes to the front where male genitalia may be visible for a short moment.

As for profanity, this film contains, in most scenes, as much of that as one might expect from a war film. It does not shy from regular cursing, including using the Lord’s name in vain a few times (GD, Jesus, etc.).

Substances: There is a little smoking and drinking, but it is not a large part of the film.

For me it is truly tragic, what was left out of this movie—the story of grace. Young Zamperini’s mischievousness is an all too familiar illustration of the human spirit which God made. It is my conviction that the mischievousness of young men reflects how God made them—uncovering falsehoods, creating transparency on the fly and defying the norm. The sinful aspect of it all does not negate that we were made in His magnificent image. We, His creation, may fit no more well in a box than He does.

Unfortunately, for lack of the whole story, the story can be lost altogether. One writer for remarked in her review of the book “Unbroken,” that “Finding God is an all too familiar ending. I’d prefer to remember Zamperini as a child who rigged church bells to chime the way he wanted.” Wrong, Maria. Young Zamperini is the man that God made. Old Zamperini is the man that God renewed.

And so utterly, this movie was for me, a disappointment.

Violence: Heavy to extreme / Profanity: Heavy—“G*d-d*mn,” “Jesus,” “God,” “Oh G*d,” “Oh my G*d,” “d*mn” (5), f-words (2), “son of a b*tch,” s-words (3), “*ss” / Sex/Nudity: Heavy

Louis Zamperini's story of salvation

“When Zamperini turned 81, he was invited to carry the flame at the Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. He ran through the streets of Naoetsu, where he had once marched as a prisoner. This time, he was there as a free man—carrying the torch of the ancient Greeks in his right hand and the sacred fire of Christ in his heart.” (by Tonya Stoneman, In Touch Ministries)

Greg Laurie interviews Louis Zamperini

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.

Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—I had heard that the book ending was, for the most part, left out of the movie, and was prepared for a great disappointment. However, on seeing the movie, I saw that the vast majority of the story of Zamperini’s childhood, school and Olympic years was also extremely abbreviated. The movie would have to be twelve hours long to include every amazing detail. I was pleased that his friend’s (Phil) strong faith was depicted in the movie, as well as Mr. Zamperini’s promise to God during the horrendous ocean days in the life raft. They did end the movie with the statement that Mr. Zaperini eventually carried through with that promise and served God the rest of his days and forgave his tormenters from the prison camps.

Given the secular movie market and mainstream Hollywood, every bit of Christian reference could have been excluded from the film, but it was not. At least those who have not read the book can get a glimpse into who Louis Zamperini is, and if they are interested in the rest of the story, they can read the book; and if they are wondering how he was so dramatically changed, they may be drawn to read The Book.

I’m glad the story was told. It’s stories like this and The Endurance (Sir Ernest Shackleton) that show the utterly amazing resilience that the Lord has made possible in some of us. As the world falls, until the Lord comes, we might draw strength from such examples as these, yet realize from where the strength comes.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—DH, age 48 (USA)
Positive—Truly excellent. Very inspiring. Only teens and above, due to scenes of violence done to prisoners of war. But faith, hope, courage, self-sacrifice, perseverance, and forgiveness portrayed throughout. Everyone in the theater applauded.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Tori, age 40+ (USA)
Positive—I really love films that are based on true stories, especially those that really highlight our U.S. history during the WWII era and using the real person to be a consultant in the making of this movie makes it that much better! This film exceeded my expectations and really loved the fact that Louis Zamperini was a strong devoted Christian, never gave up hope and saw it toward the end in one of the most difficult of times for men who were POWs during this time in addition to being stuck at sea for over a month!! RIP Louis! We need more people like you in this world!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Chris, age 22 (USA)
Positive—My husband and I caught the early matinée on Christmas Day of this fine film. It is a true story of perseverance, determination, faith, and courage. Not for little kids, due to war violence, but if I still were in charge of a church youth group, I would take the teens to see it. It is an inspiring film. It is not heavy on Bible, but there is enough belief and faith represented in this movie to make people think.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Maggie, age 67 (USA)
Positive—This is an inspiring movie about perseverance in the gravest of times. It is about a person that achieved greatness in athletics and then experienced the worst of mankind for years in a concentration camp. I give the book much higher marks than the movie and would encourage any Christian to get a copy of the book; you won’t be able to put it down. But I thought the movie did a decent job of portraying a person that should have died many times and had many chances to just give up but kept on fighting.

While reading the book I kept thinking, “If only he would give his life to Christ, what an incredible witness he could have”. The end of the book caught me by surprise. It was disappointing that the movie, while mentioning it in passing at the very end, failed to convey how important his salvation experience was to redeeming his life and even his marriage.

I like using this movie and the book as a witness. You can give someone the book or take someone to the movie without someone thinking you are about to hit them over the head with a Bible, as there are few references to anything religious in the movie. You could even take them to the movie and then buy them a copy of the book, and they still not suspect your intent is to lead them to Christ.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Michael, age 61 (USA)
Positive—Just perfect. Angelina Jolie did an amazing work, an excellent script. Alexandre Desplat is an amazing composer; Coldplay’s song deserves an Academy Award nomination, and it’s a masterpiece. An inspiring movie in the whole meaning of the word.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Sergio De La Cruz, age 18 (Guatemala)
Positive—I appreciate the fact that Angelina Jolie kept it PG-13, so the younger generation would be able to see the story. The criticism that it focused too long on the torture of Zamperini (and all POWS), just means to me that we are an impatient society too used to seeing violence. In fact, the torture portrayed in “Unbroken” is mostly done off-screen, with the viewer only hearing sound effects which let you know it is happening, but protects you from seeing it fully; and the limited visible violence shown as beatings to Zamperini and a few others was tough to watch, but not nearly as brutal as it was in reality.

The Japanese were notorious for cutting off people’s heads for the slightest reason, and that wasn’t shown once in this movie. Anyone who has read accounts of the Japanese mindset during WWII would have expected to see this fact portrayed, but Angelina Jolie chose not to do that, so that, once again, it could be PG-13.

Plus, how can we be frustrated with having to endure 2 hours of watching about torture, when real people actually endured it for years!! My Great Uncle Saper enlisted December 8, the day after Pearl Harbor, was on Luzon and then Bataan for the infamous Bataan Death March only to be sent by hell ship to mainland Japan and to one of these POW camps. He was one month shy of 23 when he succumbed to this type of treatment.

I believe it is good that movie-goers have to painfully watch this bit of truth—and realize just how easy we have it today. I wish everyone had to be reminded of the price paid in WWII for our freedom. We certainly aren’t acting like a society that remembers any more.

I disagree that there was not enough faith emphasis. The very beginning starts out with church, and the very end of the movie with real pictures, and comments point the viewer to faith and God again. How anyone survived what Zamperini did, ought to drive people out to the bookstores to read the full account of his experience and his faith.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Donna, age 58 (USA)
Positive—This movie makes me realize just how far I quit from the [finish] line many people with greater faith and perseverance crossed. Thus, it motivates me a lot in a way that, “if you can take it, you can make it.” Very closely related to christian teachings.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Nang Thangkhiew, age 23 (India)
Neutral—This evening, my wife and I went to see the movie “Unbroken,” reputedly a true story, based upon portions of the life of Louis Zamperini. We had only the recommendation of our oldest son, who did two tours of front line combat duty in Iraq with the 101st Airborne Division. Having been a warrior for most of his adult life, he is a war movie buff. He thought that the movie would be inoffensive to our Christian sensibilities.

I’d never heard of Louis Zamperini; my wife said she’d heard something about the movie portraying a Christian person dealing with World War II wartime situation. Having seen the movie, it seems clear that the movie makes fleeting references to the idea of faith playing an extremely minor role in this man’s survival against what non-Christians would consider all odds. A fellow airman is portrayed as praying (especially for the lead character) after they return to base from a bombing mission in a badly damaged plane and they survive a harrowing crash landing. On a later mission, their plane’s engines fail, and they crash in the open ocean. The three survivors endure tremendous hardship for many days, but then a serious storm hits their life rafts, and Zamperini is depicted as attempting to “cut a deal” with the Almighty—“Lord, if you save me from this life-threatening situation, I’ll serve you for the rest of my life”, or words something to that effect.

That particular scene immediately brought to mind the life of John Newton, the 18th century Christian preacher and writer of “Amazing Grace”, who would later testify that a terrifying storm at sea (at the time, he was a slaver) started him on the road to conversion to Christ. The rest of the movie details the surviving twosome being captured by the Japanese and their subsequent incarceration and torture for the remainder of the war. Zamperini is depicted as being utterly indomitable in the face of conditions that would kill the rest of us.

Since this is reputedly a true story, one can only have the utmost admiration and respect for Mr. Zamperini, and hold him in awe. And then I noticed that Angelina Jolie was credited as the director. So, all bets are off as far as this movie having any redeeming Christian qualities about it. I fully expect for the world to always, either ignorantly or deliberately, get wrong the way that the Lord God works in the world. The world would have us think that people survive the most harrowing life situations by being unbreakable (“when the going gets tough, the tough get going”, etc.), or as a last resort, bargain with God, because “God only likes the strong”. The rest of us are doomed to be fish food. God gets no glory, ever, in their final analysis. more »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Alan Roberts, age 65 (USA)
Neutral—I want to be as fair as possible in this review and not judge the movie by the book it is based on. Let me start by saying that if you are planning to watch it, then just go watch it and read my review afterward, that is, if you really want to. I thought the acting was superb, and the overall cinematography was well done. I give it 5 stars on both accounts. There was a lot of breath-taking scenery. There were however, some noticeable costume/makeup variations in regard to facial hair, starvation, etc, I have to say, it was a bit distracting.

The biggest disappointment was the actual story. A lot has been said about how the film cuts off the end of the story. Of course, there is a tag line at the end which credits Louis” “faith” for helping him overcome PTSD. But, from more of a film critic’s perspective, the film lacks the solid climactic ending that the audience deserves. Angelina Jolie highlights the suffering and brutality of WW II, the airplane crash, being lost at sea, prison camp, and torture, building up intense emotions, offering all the tension that creates a truly great story with a terrific climax, but it fails to satisfy. Ending with Louis simply coming home, seems to treat his story more like a bio than the great epic story that it really is.

They could have done a whole detailed subscript, explaining his ordeal along with his Christian conversion, but that wouldn’t have been enough to satisfy the tension that the film brings to bear on its audience. In short, the film lacks heart! It’s the difference between watching The History Channel vs. “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

I’m not sure exactly what happened with Jolie and the screen writers here, obviously they read the book and were inspired by the story. I guess they just didn’t know quite what to do with the ending. Maybe they didn’t want people to think they were religious fanatics. Yes, the movie was already long, but there is still a whole lot to be desired of it. In short, THEY COULD HAVE DONE BETTER!

One last final word, “Unbroken” is definitely NOT a movie for children. If you know anything about the story, you should know why. Besides the language and brutality, there is also a scene of two nude prisoners being humiliated as water was thrown on them. There was nothing anti-Christian in the movie, except for the things taken in context (i.e., the brutality of Japanese prison guards).
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 2½
—J. Paul, age 44 (USA)
Negative—The actual story is interesting. The movie, however, only offers about 10% story and 90% violent, painful scenes of suffering people. The theater I was in was full, and no one left. I would have left early on, but didn’t want to upset the group I was with. Apparently, many people enjoy watching others suffer. This movie is a sad commentary on the entertainment industry and many Americans.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: ½
—Greg Harding (non-Christian), age 69 (USA)

Sorry, no other viewer comments received yet. If you have seen this movie, PLEASE share your observations and insights with others to be posted here. GO