Angelina Jolie to direct, the Coen Brothers to write ‘Unbroken’

Mark Deming
Movie Talk

Angelina Jolie is joining forces with the Coen Brothers. Only they'll all be working behind the camera.

Joel and Ethan Coen, the sibling writing and directing team behind "Fargo," "The Big Lebowski," and "No Country For Old Men," have signed on to rewrite the screenplay for "Unbroken," the heroic true story of Olympic athlete and P.O.W. camp survivor Louis Zamperini. The Coens, however, won't be directing the project -- Angelina Jolie is. The actress has been transitioning into directing in recent years and this project, which was announced in December, is her first foray into big-budget studio film directing. The movie is based on a biography by Laura Hillenbrand, who also wrote the book that became the basis for "Seabiscuit."

While best known as one of Hollywood's sexiest leading ladies, Jolie has established a new career behind the camera. She made her directorial debut with the 2007 documentary "A Place In Time" and also helmed the 2011 drama "In The Land Of Blood and Honey." In December, after it was announced Jolie was attached to the project, she released a statement, reading, "I read Laura Hillenbrand’s brilliant book, and I was so moved by Louie Zamperini’s heroic story, I immediately began to fight for the opportunity to make this film. Louie is a true hero and a man of immense humanity, faith and courage. I am deeply honored to have the chance to tell his inspiring story."

Louis Zamperini was a teenager from Los Angeles when he competed as a runner in the 1936 Olympic Games. In 1943, Zamperini was serving in the Air Force when his plane went down over the Pacific, and he spent forty-seven days on a raft, without food, water or shelter. When Zamperini finally washed up on shore, he was captured by Japanese forces, and spent two years as a Prisoner of War, receiving brutal treatment at the hands of his captors. Despite it all, Zamperini survived and is still alive today.

Universal Pictures bought the rights to Hillenbrand's book in 2011, and the project has gone though several hands since, with Francis Lawrence ("I Am Legend," "Water For Elephants") originally announced to direct, and William Nicholson ("Les Miserables," "Gladiator") and Richard LaGravenese ("Beautiful Creatures," "P.S. I Love You") penning earlier drafts of the screenplay. With Jolie in the director's chair and the Coen Brothers writing the script, "Unbroken" certainly has star power going for it, though one wonders how the Coen's distinctive off-kilter wit, which informs even their darkest projects, will mesh with the harrowing circumstances of Louis Zamperini's story.