‘Unbroken’ goes for gold

After 47 days adrift in the Pacific Ocean and more than two years at a Japanese prisoner of war camp, Olympian Louis “Louie” Zamperini wrote down the grimiest, most haunting details of his life as a young Army man.

More than 50 years later, those notes have been played out on the big screen in an inspiring, emotional film unlike any other in recent memory.

“Unbroken” recounts the life of local hometown hero Zamperini (played by newcomer Jack O’Connell). The more than two hour film explores Zamperini’s young adult life of troubles, from getting into fights as a young boy to running track at Torrance High School to being on a plane that crash landed in the South Pacific.

The film flashes back and forth, beginning with Zamperini’s infamous crash landing that left him and an Army friend, Phil (Domhnall Gleeson), at sea for 47 days before being captured as a prisoner of war.

Between the at sea experiences, the movie flashes to Zamperini being beat up as a kid, outrunning – literally – his peers in high school, and then competing in the 1936 Olympics in Germany.

There are many scenes, from beginning to end, that aren’t for those with weak stomachs, but one during the 47 days lost at sea between Zamperini and Phil had almost everyone in the room gasp in horror.

The film is already receiving awards buzz and for good reason. The location, though maybe not totally believable as a stand-in for Torrance in the 1920s (the movie was filmed in Australia), is beautifully shot, with the scenes at sea being the most well done.

Each character, and the work each actor had to go through to become the character, is quite clear. In one scene, a POW’s ribs are noticeable when asked to take off his clothes. But the takeaway performance from the film is O’Connell’s.

O’Connell becomes Zamperini so well, Zamperini’s two children now even call O’Connell “Dad.” O’Connell had to experience quick weight loss for the brutal interncamp scenes that last much of the movie – and be may be hard for some to take.

Throughout the film, a few nods are made to Zamperini and his beloved hometown of Torrance.

The track uniforms, director Angelina Jolie said in July, were worked on closely to get the “T” designed the same way track students at Zamperini’s high school still wear it. Later in the film, in the scene at the Olympics, Zamperini’s grandson, Clay Zamperini, is the young man running with the Olympic torch.

There’s a reason Laura Hillenbrand’s novel of the same name has been on bestseller lists for the past four years, since its release. The emotions and experiences are raw, inspiring and riveting.

It’s the story of a small town boy with big dreams and an even bigger story.

“Unbroken” opens in theaters nationwide Christmas Day.