It is the inspiring true story of the life of Louis Zamperini (played by Jack O’Connell) and his endurance through incredible hardships. The film actually tells 3 different parts of his life. The first part shows his rise from a skinny kid to an athlete who ran in the 1936 Berlin Olympics on the same track team with Jessie Owens. Zamperini was hoping to also run in the 1940 Olympics in Tokyo. Of course, War II ended that dream, and instead Zamperini’s trip to Japan turned out to be as part of a bomber crew.
When the bomber crashes in the Pacific Zamperini and two other men endure 47 days at sea in an open life raft. Eventually he is captured an thrown into prisoner of war camp near Tokyo.
Angelina Jolie’s directing is amazing. The film has huge panoramic scenes such as bombing runs or Olympic events. It also has close dramatic scenes with nothing but the 3 men in the raft. Very few directors could shoot both types of scenes and make the audience feel that they are 100% real.
The prison camp itself is run by a corporal named Miyaui who the prisoners have nicknamed “The Bird” due to his strange and erratic behavior. It may seem odd to an American audience that a mere corporal would be in charge of so many prisoners. However, it should be remembered that under the code by which Japanese soldiers and sailors lived in World War II it was considered dishonorable to ever surrender. Allied prisoners of war were considered to be dishonorable men not deserving respect, due to the fact that they had surrendered. Hence, their care was given to a mere Corporal.
Corporal Miyaui is the most fascinating character in the entire movie. At one point he tells Zamperini that they should have been friends since they are both strong, but that he cannot be friends with an enemy of Japan. Miyaui understands that he cannot allow any of the prisoners to appear strong if he is to maintain control of the camp. He makes it his personal mission to break Zamperini. His technique is to be totally unpredictable. You never know what will suddenly set him off. At one moment he seems reasonable and then will suddenly turn into a violet madman.
What is incredible about this amazing performance is that it is from someone who is not an actor. Corporal Miyaui is played by Takamasha Ishihara, who is a rock & roll star in Japan. This is his first acting gig, and he only learned English a few years ago, so that he could sing some songs in English. The fact that he speaks English with a very thick Japanese accent only make his portrayal seem more true to life.
We give this movie our highest rating of Five Stars *****