Angelina Jolie plans to direct “Unbroken,” a movie about American hero and missionary Louis Zamperini, the man whose story of grace outshines his athletic prowess and service to our country. The script is based on Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, the book by Seabiscuit author and Pulitzer Prize winner Laura Hillenbrand which has been on The New York Times bestseller list for over 108 straight weeks.
The best-seller chronicles the extraordinary early life of this former Olympic athlete, prisoner of war and committed Christian.
"I read Laura Hillenbrand's brilliant book, and I was so moved by Louie Zamperini's heroic story, I immediately began to fight for the opportunity to make this film," Jolie said in a statement. "Louie is a true hero and a man of immense humanity, faith and courage.
Joel and Ethan Coen ("No Country For Old Men") are writing the film's screenplay, from previous drafts by William Nicholson ("Les Miserables") and Richard LaGravenese (HBO's "Behind The Candelabra").
"I've had the privilege of spending a great deal of time with Louie Zamperini, who is a hero of mine, and now - I am proud to say - a dear friend," Forbes' highest-paid actress in Hollywood said in a statement. "I am deeply honored to be telling his extraordinary story, and I will do my absolute best to give him the film he deserves."
The son of two Italian immigrants, Louis Zamperini was known in his youth for his mischievous behavior and quick feet. He became an Olympic gold-medalist in the 1930s, tying the world record for the 5,000 meter run in the competition’s qualifying race. Zamperini later joined the United States Air Corps during World War II, and his plane crashed in 1943.
Zamperini and two other crew mates survived on a raft in the hot sun for 47 days, battling hunger, thirst and sharks. It got worse when they were caught by the Japanese Navy and was tortured as a prisoner of war in Japan for two years.
Zamperini returned home as a war hero, but suffered from severe post-traumatic disorder, which he tried to numb his pain through drinking, until the day he met Billy Graham and came to Christ. He set his face toward Japan, where he would become a missionary to the prison guards who had tormented him during World War II. The knowledge of what Christ had done for him allowed him to extend genuine love and forgiveness to those who had tortured him in captivity. Hallelujah – “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (English Standard Version, John 8:36).
Louis Zamperini(Photo: Louisezamperini.net)
Now 96 years old, Zamperini tours the nation sharing the testimony of God’s grace in his life. At Faith Community Church in September of 2011, he relayed how he had prayed to God to keep him alive while a prisoner of war, and that he had promised Him that he would seek Him and serve Him if he returned home. Billy Graham’s message touched on the fact that many reach out to God in desperation, and Zamperini felt convicted that he had broken his promise to God after having made it safely home.
A miracle took place when Zamperini trusted in Christ. Said the war hero, “I’m on my knees … made my decision, and I knew in my heart, mind, and soul that I was through drinking, that I was through carousing around, and I knew I forgave all my guards … and I couldn’t believe what was happening.” He went on to say that a critic of “Unbroken” had given the book four stars instead of five because he couldn’t understand how someone under traumatic stress could “get over it in a moment.” Zamperini smiled, “He didn’t know the Scriptures - ‘Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new person’” he said, quoting 2 Corinthians 5:17.
Production on "Unbroken" is set to begin in late September. The life story of Louis Zamperini is expected to be released in theaters on Christmas Day 2014.
[Editor's note: reporter Lauren Leigh Noske contributed to the report.]