‘Unbroken: The Path to Redemption’ holds attention

In 2014, director Angelina Jolie gave us “Unbroken,” the true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner who crashed in the Pacific during World War II, spent 47 days on a rubber raft and was then captured by the Japanese, who tortured and mistreated him for 18 brutal months.

Based on Laura Hillenbrand’s bestseller, that worthy film had the approval of Zamp himself — who managed to see a rough cut before just his death at the age of 97; yet many viewers were disappointed — because Jolie’s film left out the entire second half the book.

“Unbroken: The Path to Redemption” seeks to remedy that oversight.

Picking up with Louis’s release and triumphant welcome home at the end of the war, the new film — which doesn’t return any personnel from its predecessor — chronicles the hero’s terrible struggles with PTSD and alcoholism, which nearly destroyed his nascent marriage. Eventually finding his way to a Billy Graham crusade in Los Angeles, Louis made peace with God — and with his demons; incredibly, he then returned to Japan and met with his former tormentors, consciously and verbally forgiving them for what they had done.

Granted, that’s not nearly as cinematic a saga as the one recounted in Jolie’s film; but thanks to strong direction, solid acting and a low-key but heartfelt approach to spiritual matters, “Unbroken” holds our attention throughout the rest of this unbelievable story.

The first film starred Jack O’Connell; here, Louis is portrayed by the lesser known Samuel Hunt, who perfectly captures his boyish charm and ebullience, along with the increasing terror of his trauma; the pride and anger that kept him from seeking help; and finally, the humility and quietude that emerged after his unexpected conversion.

Hunt is ably supported by the lovely Merritt Patterson as Zamp’s wife (easy to see why he fell for her); by character actors Bob Gunton and Gary Cole; and by Will Graham as his similarly named counterpart. Though Graham chooses not to mimic the evangelist’s well-known accent, he certainly has the cadence and nuance — which is appropriate, since he is actually the famed preacher’s grandson.

Director Harold Cronk, who wielded religion like a club in the awkward and preachy “God’s Not Dead” (2014), takes a lighter touch here. In fact, it’s almost too light, as he downplays the severity of Louis’s rages, which sometimes endangered his wife. On the plus side, Cronk keeps sentiment firmly under control in the conversion scene — and more important, in the closing moments when Louis forgives his Japanese captors.

When that moving scene arrives at last, one realizes how badly the earlier movie needed this part of the story — and what a hole this new film fills.

Let’s hope it plays in Williamsport soon.

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