“UNBROKEN: PATH TO REDEMPTION” — 3 stars — Samuel Hunt, Merritt Patterson, Will Graham, Gary Cole, Bobby Campo, Gianna Simone; PG-13 (thematic content and related disturbing images); in general release
The 2014 film “Unbroken” was the story of a man who had to stay on his feet to survive. “Unbroken: Path to Redemption” is about a man who must come to his knees to save his soul.
In both cases, the man in question is Louis Zamperini, the real-life Olympic runner who spent 47 days at sea and wound up in a prisoner of war camp after surviving the crash of his bomber in World War II.
Harold Cronk’s “Path to Redemption” follows the aftermath of Zamperini’s ordeal, after he returns home to California to resume his normal life. Naturally, there’s nothing normal about it.
Though family, friends and perfect strangers all treat him like a hero wherever he goes, Zamperini (here played by Samuel Hunt, replacing Jack O’Connell) struggles to leave his demons behind, suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. While he tours the country encouraging citizens to buy war bonds, he turns more and more to drinking for self-medication, compounding an already difficult situation.
Things brighten for a time when, during a forced three-week furlough in Miami, Zamperini meets a young woman named Cynthia (Merritt Patterson). They quickly fall in love, marry and try to settle down back in California. Zamperini even starts to train again, hoping to qualify for the 1948 Olympic Games.
But an injury derails the comeback, and Zamperini struggles to find work since his war service prevented him from completing his college degree. His drinking increases as pressures mount, putting additional strain on his young family, which soon includes a little girl.
Throughout it all, Zamperini blames God for his trials and suffering — and he even flirts with the idea of returning to Japan to enact vengeance on his captor Watanabe, aka “The Bird” (David Sakurai), who still haunts his dreams. His agonizing journey is eventually aided by the sermons of Billy Graham (played by Graham's grandson, Will Graham).
The plot offers an interesting foil to Zamperini’s plight in “Unbroken,” and both films were adapted from the original Laura Hillebrand book (“Path to Redemption” covers the book’s final third). Though Cronk’s film isn’t nearly as powerful as Angelina Jolie’s drama (which was penned by Joel and Ethan Coen and draws on the more cinematic elements of the story), the director still does a nice job of drawing things out just long enough to see how the same defiant resolution that saved Zamperini’s life in the war is now preventing him from healing his soul.1 comment on this story
Hunt is solid as Zamperini, and Patterson puts in a notable performance as Cynthia. It might have been better to get a clearer feel for Zamperini’s spiritual state early on, since though there are hints as to his condition, the theme becomes much more explicit in the film’s third act and the transition feels somewhat clumsy. But in general, “Unbroken: Path to Redemption's” moving story offers a spiritual complement to its more action-packed predecessor.
“Unbroken: Path to Redemption” is rated PG-13 for thematic content and related disturbing images; running time: 98 minutes.