When the true-life prisoner-of-war drama “Unbroken” came out in 2014, I wrote that director Angelina Jolie missed an opportunity by focusing entirely on the physical abuse Louis Zamperini suffered at the hands of the Japanese during World War II.
More interesting, I wrote, was the story Jolie relegated to title cards before the end credits: How Zamperini, a former Olympic distance runner, battled post-traumatic stress, became a born-again Christian and returned to Japan to forgive his captors.
The sequel “Unbroken: Path to Redemption,” a hamfisted Christian-themed melodrama, is proof that critics should be careful what they wish for.
The war is over when the movie begins, and Zamperini (played this time by “Chicago P.D.’s” Samuel Hunt) is returning to his family in Torrance, Calif. But he can’t shake the memories of his plane being shot down, of surviving 47 days alone in a raft in the Pacific, and of being beaten in the prison camp. The face of one Japanese guard, Watanabe (David Sakurai), nicknamed “The Bird.”
On a promotional tour for war bonds, his colonel (Bob Gunton) notices Zamperini is drinking too much. The colonel sends Zamperini to Florida for three weeks R&R, and to meet a psychiatrist (Gary Cole) who specializes in PTSD (or “battle fatigue,” as they called it then). Zamperini doesn’t hold much stock in the shrink, but he does find something better: Cynthia Applewhite (Merritt Patterson), a beach beauty who soon becomes Mrs. Zamperini and moves with him back in Torrance.
Even with Cynthia by his side, and soon a baby daughter, Zamperini can’t shake his demons, his failures or the bottle. But, when all seems hopeless, Cynthia notices the tent going up in town, the one for Billy Graham’s revival tour. (Evangelist and actor Will Graham portrays his grandfather in the film, channeling his compassionate preaching style.)
Director Harold Cronk (whose “God Bless the Broken Road” hit theaters only a week ago) and screenwriters Richard Friedenberg and Ken Hixon adapt the middle sections of Laura Hillenbrand’s biography of Zamperini into an unremarkable story. Zamperini’s salvation is a given, the road he took to get there familiar and well-worn, without much introspection about what happened inside him that allowed him to accept Jesus’ love.
Without that internal struggle, “Unbroken: Path to Redemption” is little more than a living billboard for Billy Graham (to whom the film is dedicated). One suspects he, and Zamperini (who died in 2014), would have wanted a movie with a little more meat.
‘Unbroken: Path to Redemption
Opens Friday, Sept. 14, at theaters everywhere. Rated PG-13 for thematic content and related disturbing images. Running time: 98 minutes.