Unbroken: Path To Redemption (2018)
SHOULD I SEE IT?
If you are someone who feels Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken left out Louis Zamperini’s conversion to Christianity on purpose, then this might be the movie you have been waiting for.
Samuel Hunt delivers a good performance, and his chemistry with co-star Merrit Patterson is believable and effective.
See below for a dissenting take, but I imagine the appearance of Will Graham, portraying his grandfather, Rev. Billy Graham, is precisely a reason some will love this movie unabashedly.
A faith-based do-over on Louis Zamperini’s life is going to a tough sell to the non-faith based movie consumer.
Even if you engage with it, and elements of the movie are actually very good, the last 15-20 minutes makes this an (intentional?) advertisement for Billy Graham Ministries, and that’s not I was told I would be getting.
Actually, the lack of domineering religiosity throughout the film may upset some members of the target audience.
When Angelina Jolie’s 2014 biopic Unbroken concluded its story of the life of Olympian Louis Zamperini, title cards made a reference to his becoming devoted to God and converting to a life of Christianity. There were those, including people of faith, who took exception to this and felt that Jolie had paid short shrift to the Zamperini story by relegating an important life experience of her subject to a throwaway mention on a title card.
Thanks to prolific faith-based filmmaker Harold Cronk, the rest of Zamperini’s story is now being told with Unbroken: Path to Redemption, a continuation-slash-sequel to Jolie’s film, in name only, and arriving just one week after Cronk’s God Bless the Broken Road hit theaters.
For the most part, this Unbroken film is a competently made production, with a solid lead performance from Samuel Hunt as Zamperini. Cronk picks up the story with his own montage of events covered in Jolie’s film, and then brings the story into the 1940s, where Zamperini has relocated to California and is trying to acclimate to daily life, still haunted by the torture he received from Japanese corporal Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe (David Sakurai).
Though uncomfortable with his celebrity, Zamperini agrees to hock war bonds for the government, but on a trip to Miami, he meets Cynthia Applewhite (Merritt Patterson) and falls head over heels in love. They marry and life begins to turn around. However, efforts to hide his demons soon begin to fail and Zamperini becomes increasingly dependent on alcohol to numb his pain and suppress his PTSD.
It is worth mentioning that for a significant portion of Unbroken: Path to Redemption, Cronk, working with a screenplay by Richard Friedenberg and Ken Hixon, adapting the same Laura Hillenbrand novel used by Jolie, rightly focuses on Zamperini’s story. And while that seems like a rather obvious observation, Cronk has shown he is anything but subtle in his previous filmmaking.
Take a look at the first two films in the God’s Not Dead franchise for a point of reference.
Hunt, a veteran television actor, is good, confident in leading his first major studio production. He finds great chemistry with Patterson, who also has some strong moments as a wife struggling with her husband’s decline, while trying to raise their infant son. However, therein lies so much of what hinders Cronk’s film from becoming something pretty good.
In reality, Cronk’s pacing, when the drama heightens, is laborious to sit through. And if anyone has seen a story of a man, down-on-his-luck, struggling to survive, with a supportive wife taken for granted and neglected, you’ve seen this version of Unbroken. Every dramatic cliché is tapped out here, and when Cynthia delivers a speech to Louis about not being able to take much more of his drunkenness and irresponsibility, we have seen that scene played out countless times before in literally dozens and dozens of other films.
It is in moments like these where Unbroken: Path to Redemption runs out of steam and starts to make some judgments and comments that Cronk seems all to willing to make. What’s funny is that for two-thirds of the film, we finally see one of his films, grounded in faith, but simply telling a story. Though the movie is a bit on the boring side, elements are in place to make it seem as if it is good enough to achieve its goals.
But Cronk again cannot help himself and, in what can basically be described as a cinematic dam burst of Christianity, he literally crams an entire movie’s worth of religion into about 15 minutes. He achieves this by literally turning his movie over to Will Graham, portraying his grandfather - the iconic Evangelical pastor, Rev. Billy Graham, for the most self-serving and disingenuous cameo I have seen in years. At one point, Cronk has Graham speaking directly into the camera, and soon thereafter Zamperini drops to his knees and is saved.
For some, this will be the emotional payoff they have been waiting for during the preceding 75-80 minutes. For the rest of us, this simply renders everything which came before as nothing more than a bait-and-switch. Cronk singlehandedly rips the movie away from Zamperini’s journey and uses it as a prop with which to have Billy Graham’s grandson preach to us.
It’s a shameful final act to a pretty decent movie up to that point. I don’t know if anyone else wants to take a crack at Louis Zamperini’s story, but after two attempts, maybe a documentarian can give the man the justice he so richly deserves.
CAST & CREW
Starring: Samuel Hunt, Merritt Patterson, Will Graham, Gary Cole, Bob Gunton, Bobby Campo, David DeLuise, Gianna Simone, Vanessa Bell Calloway, David Sakurai.
Director: Harold Cronk
Written by: Richard Friedenberg, Ken Hixon
Adapted from the novel “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption” by Laura Hillenbrand
Release Date: September 14, 2018
Universal Pictures/Pure Flix Entertainment