A rousing tale of human resilience, this biopic about Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) is directed by Angelina Jolie. Zamperini’s story is truly remarkable. A delinquent teen from an Italian-American family in California, he turned his life around to become a champion athlete, representing the US at the 1938 Berlin Olympics. Then, as a US air force flier during World War Two, he endured ordeals that would have crushed most other people.
Opening with a nerve-jangling bombing mission before flashing back to Zamperini’s scrappy childhood and athletic triumphs, Jolie’s movie goes on to show how he first survives a plane crash in the Pacific and then somehow gets through 47 days in a raft in shark-infested waters while striving to boost the morale of his two fellow survivors (played by Domhnall Gleeson and Finn Whitrock) with lip-smacking recollections of his mother’s cooking. When rescue finally comes, he ends up in a series of brutal Japanese prisoner-of-war camps where a sadistic guard (played with sly menace by Japanese pop star Miyavi) singles him out for particularly savage treatment.
Jolie’s solidly old-fashioned film doesn’t probe particularly deeply into its hero’s psyche, and it doesn’t depict his post-war traumas. What she does very well, however, is convey Zamperini’s wartime experiences with gut-wrenching immediacy. She’s aided by Roger Deakins’ striking, Oscar-nominated cinematography and a compelling lead performance by O’Connell.