A Hero's Journey in the New Trailer for Angelina Jolie's 'Unbroken'

Gwynne Watkins

Angelina Jolie has only directed two films, but the new trailer for Unbroken shows just how ambitious she is. The epic drama, based on Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling biography Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, takes on the true life story of Olympic track star and World War II veteran Louis Zamperini.

Judging from the trailer, the biopic begins in Zamperini’s childhood — and there’s a lot of ground to cover after that. At 19, Zamperini was the youngest American to qualify for the 5000-meter run at the 1936 Olympics. (He finished in eighth place and briefly met Adolf Hitler after the race.) Five years later, Zamperini enlisted in the U.S. Air Force as a bomber pilot. His plane crashed into the Pacific in 1943, and he survived 47 days at sea before being captured by the Japanese Navy. He was held in a POW camp under awful conditions until his release in 1945. After the war ended, Zamperini became a born-again Christian and inspirational speaker, returning to Japan in order to tell his former captors that he had forgiven them.

Nearly as sprawling as Zamperini’s life story is the history of the film adaptation. The veteran’s story has been floating around Hollywood since 1956, when Universal Pictures courted Tony Curtis to star. Nicholas Cage and Ashton Kutcher were both rumored to be playing Zamperini in more recent decades, according to the LA Times, but the movie didn’t get off the ground until Jolie took an interest. Though even partner Brad Pitt was skeptical about the project — telling her, “Oh honey, that’s been around forever” — Jolie was able to get Universal’s blessing.

Zamperini himself passed away only last week, but he was integral to the production. He joked to biographer Hillenbrand that he’d love to be in the movie himself — “ as long as I can play Angelina’s boyfriend.”

Unbroken, which stars Jack O’Connell and Garrett Hedlund, opens in theaters on December 25.