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“Unbroken: Path to Redemption” follows the life of Louis Zam­perini after WWII. | Wikipedia.

When floating in a raft on the sea, half-dead, and hal­lu­ci­nating, Louis Zam­perini gazed up at the stars and whis­pered to God: “If you save me, I will serve you forever.” 

As told by Laura Hil­len­brand in Zamperini’s biog­raphy and in Angelina Jolie’s feature-film adap­tation, “Unbroken,” Zam­perini, an olympic athlete and American soldier during WWII was rescued only to spend tor­turous years in a Japanese prison camp. 

Jolie’s film ends when Zam­perini reaches home, and “Unbroken: Path to Redemption” picks up where the first movie left off, fol­lowing Zam­perini in his return, recovery, and new life in the United States. 

While por­traying Louis Zamperini’s con­version to Chris­tianity out of the throes of post trau­matic stress dis­order and alco­holism, “Unbroken: Path to Redemption” fails to under­stand the real drama of for­giveness, and instead paints a black-and-white sal­vation nar­rative so sharp that it lacks dimension, giving us the “what” of Zamperini’s story without the critical “how.”

While Hillenbrand’s book “Unbroken” under­girds both the first movie and this “Path to Redemption” follow-up, the movies share only a pro­ducer. Samuel Hunt plays Louis Zam­perini and uses the uncanny resem­blance to full effect. He stars alongside Merritt Pat­terson as Cynthia Zam­perini and Bobby Campo as Pete, the elder Zam­perini brother. Starting with Louis’ joyful welcome by his family and recruitment to sell war bonds, “Unbroken: Path to Redemption” follows Louis through the heights of romance and the depths of alco­holism and PTSD until he finally ends up at a Billy Graham crusade and reit­erates his promise on the raft to God.

Zamperini’s con­version at the Billy Graham crusade was a rare Saul-on-the-road-to-Dam­ascus con­version expe­rience: dra­matic and def­inite. After two-and-a-half years of nights torn by trauma and tor­turous flash­backs, Zam­perini slept through the night. 

But the actors get so caught up in playing familiar roles and forget to act like real humans, which shows in incon­sis­tencies of char­acter. They cheapen a true story that is solid gold, making it feel like cheap thrift store gilt. 

In one of the lowest ebbs of Louis’ life shown in the movie, he drinks himself into a bad business deal, loses his remaining self-control, and slaps his wife when she won’t give him the checkbook to fund said shady deal with their remaining $3,000. His wife finds a pocket-sized .38 under their bed. Pete, Louis’s older brother, tracks down Louis drunk in a bar, warning him to stay away from Cynthia and their young child. He appears ready to phys­i­cally block Louis from returning home until Zam­perini insults his brother’s “nice clean” service in the Navy and his brother leaves with only a verbal warning to Zam­perini. 

I would go a whole lot farther than a verbal warning if a known alco­holic had already lost his temper with his wife and had a gun back at the house. The reliable “big brother” figure, who care­fully took the keys from the ignition of the old car in which he found Louis nos­tal­gi­cally drinking, makes a dra­matic statement (“don’t go back there!”) without actually rein­forcing it. 

The dynamics of the failing mar­riage —  this is sup­posed to be one of the most tragic con­se­quences of Louis’ aban­donment of God —  aren’t con­vincing. Cynthia threatens to leave after the violent episode, but instead of packing her bags, announces that she wants a divorce … and doesn’t leave. The best expla­nation we get comes when she tells a groggy Louis she loves him and won’t leave him, after she returns from a Billy Graham crusade. 

The pieces fall back into place after Louis’s con­version, he only has to pour his whiskey down the kitchen sink and hug his wife and child. There was appar­ently no broken trust, no with­drawal symptoms, no respon­si­bility to rebuild a rela­tionship with a wife to whom he repeatedly lied. Love may con­tinue when trust is broken, but wouldn’t con­tinual deceit, alco­holism, failure to provide (which admit­tedly isn’t his fault entirely), loss of control around her and the child fracture the rela­tionship they had? They married after three weeks of knowing each other, and the reason she sticks it out with him is simply because she’s a Christian — at least that’s the reason the audience is given. 

A movie that seems to under­stand so well the dra­matic effect of divine for­giveness doesn’t give any details on how exactly one man, or one woman for­gives another man. 

For­giveness requires renouncing the valid claim to justice. It means absorbing every blow, every sneer without seeing a retal­iatory round­house laid on the torturer’s jaw —  without the abuser offering any apology, even without any acknowl­edgement. The film did not suc­cess­fully convey this trans­for­mation in Zam­perini. It’s probably a good thing that the Zam­perini of “Unbroken: Path to Redemption” didn’t ever see the Bird, the guard who abused him in the prison camp, in person. He probably would have shot him, Billy Graham con­version and all. 

As por­trayed in this film, Zamperini’s con­version doesn’t seem to give him meaning, or an increased ability to interact with reality and the very real scars he must have — the only one we see is one his ankle. Gnarly. He’s got to be torn up, lit­erally. 

To judge only from this film, eternal sal­vation gives you the ben­efits of good coun­seling and good meds. Along this path to redemption, a man saved by the grace of God is turned into a hand-shaking celebrity of fake for­giveness. “Unbroken: Path to Redemption” fails to capture either the original story or the re-telling, sac­ri­ficing the indi­vidual char­acter of each for a generic sketch that cap­tures only cliches. 

Zamperini’s story is true, but the sub­title of “Unbroken: A Path to Redemption” — “a true story” — feels less like a dec­la­ration and more like an apology.