UNBROKEN: PATH TO REDEMPTION REVIEWED
“Unbroken: Path to Redemption” does something I haven’t seen in ages. It proves the difference that a creative team can achieve with the same story. Continuing Laura Hillenbrand’s look into the life of Louis Zamperini, this entry gives us the first big religious moment in his life. After dealing with PTSD following the end of World War II, Louis’s marriage is starting to break down. Louis and his wife Cynthia want to stay together, but his anger at his former Japanese captors is still too strong. That’s when his wife goes and sees Billy Graham during his 1949 Crusade in Los Angeles.
While the previous Jolie directed film was more of a World War II tale, it is neat to see a major studio follow the life of one man. However, this is a Pure Flix movie and they have to appeal to their base. Religion is a big part of the Zamperini story, but it was a side piece to this era of his life. The focus was on Zamperini trying to figure out if he could forgive his captors and religion helped him frame his decisions. Hang with me here, people.
Taking apart a long-lived life to make a sectional film series requires planning. I get that Universal and its partners have an angle for where they want to go. However, a creative team needs to figure out their A, B and sub plots before just hammering home the religious underpinnings. Yes, Louis Zamperini was a religious man, but the film treats his turning to Christ in the most melodramatic of turns. Life doesn’t work like that.
When Billy Graham met Zamperini in 1949, it wasn’t an instant turn to faith. It took time and most of the 1950s, as the Graham machine turned Zamperini into an evangelist. Hell, it feels like it would better as a third Unbroken movie. There are plot points at play from the first movie and the first act of this film that would follow Zamperini to the end of his life. However, Unbroken: Path to Redemption pushes on its audience. Let a story breathe and find its pacing.
I get that it’s neat to have Billy Graham’s grandson play the legendary Crusader. It just feels like we’re pushing too much into one film. If the audience came to Unbroken, they’re already excited for this film. I was a passive fan and I enthusiastically sought this one out. More than anything, I wanted to see the visit to Sugamo Prison in this installment. That moment in Zamperini’s life was enough to drive an entire Unbroken film.
If you want to learn more about that time, then google The Bird. He was one of Zamperini’s captors who beat the living hell out of the man. Unfortunately, he got to skirt the justice system and was never properly charged for War Crimes. I feel the focus that the film gives to the man makes him seem like a footnote to Zamperini’s problems. A chunk of the film almost seems like it’s trying to montage Post World War II as just a series of bad days for Zamperini.
That almost feels like cheating Unbroken: Path to Redemption of what it could be as a successful narrative. Hell, the subtitle annoys me. Who is getting redeemed? Louis Zamperini was still a hero that didn’t have the means to figure out where to go outside of the military. Watching him fail at the 1948 Olympics served to show that his body was getting too old to compete. Now, he was in a battle of the mind and soul. It’s just that Billy Graham feels like a deus ex machina and that spits on non-fiction.
Do you ever have those moments when a creative work hits a pet peeve and you don’t want it to ruin your appreciation of the work? Too many online outlets love taking potshots at Pure Flix’s creative output and it’s trashy. They usually have a sliver of a complaint and then harp on the one note to appease their dwindling viewer/reader base. While I have harmless fun poking at them, that original crumb of an idea isn’t wrong. These Pure Flix movies get attacked because they are the film equivalent of a small child trying to tell a joke.
What does that mean? Well, Pure Flix wants you to be down with the Judeo Christian God. The big guy (sorry Ladies) has excellent PR and the people that like him want you to know all about him. They will tell elaborate stories and create spectacular events. All the while, they blow their momentum by not following basic narrative rules. Save the Jesus for when it is absolutely needed, people. You’re not being clever or well-intentioned if the robed Messiah is portrayed as always being on the tip of a prudent tongue. A hero of any story has to work his or her way to salvation.
Louis Zamperini did that in real life and a rushed second half doesn’t do his legacy right. Unbroken: Path to Redemption works incredibly well when it hits its big notes. However, all of those smaller moments lack any subtle influence. It’s wide-eyed women and children pushing and pushing a character to an unnatural point of development. I can almost forgive it if in a half-baked fictional tale.
For those that dodge The Predator and don’t get to see Mandy this weekend, I would love it if you went out and saw this one. Hell, I’m debating making the source novel the subject of our Book Club for October. There is a fascinating debate to be held about the obligations and creative license one must pay to adapting a real life. Hopefully, Universal puts both of the Unbroken films out on 4K when this one hits home video.
- 1 hr and 38 mins
- Pure Flix