Lawrence to direct amazing Zamperini survival story?
Francis Lawrence, the director of Constantine, I Am Legend (Filmstalker review) and the soon to be seen Water for Elephants, is being rumoured as being in negotiations to direct a film about Louis Zamperini, a world class runner, tipped for the Olympics, who was shot down in his plane during the war and boasts a stunning story of survival that went beyond the prisoner of war camps he was held in and even the war itself.
The story of the man sounds a harrowing one, and it could be a great choice for the director for it's not only challenging but an amazing story that pulls together aspects from so many other films of surviving tragedy.
The film, which may be titled Unbroken, is based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand called Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (Amazon.co.uk / Amazon.com). It tells the story of Louis Zamperini, a world class runner who ran at the 1936 Berlin Olympics and met Hitler who was surprised by his speed. He was tipped to break the four minute mile and win golds for his running but war broke out and interrupted his career.
He signed up as a bombardier and flew bombing runs during the Second World War, and in 1940 his plane crashed in the Pacific killing all but two on board. He and a fellow airman survived for forty-seven days floating on a roughly made raft, drifting for two thousand miles, and somehow surviving the thirst, hunger and sharks.
Unfortunately, despite all that, they were found by the Japanese Navy and taken prisoner. Initially Zamperini was placed in a terrible prisoner of war camp called Execution Island where the guards routinely beheaded prisoners, the Japanese discovered his talents and transferred him to a much safer and more comfortable camp. However the price for this was too high, the reading of anti-American propaganda, and so he was sent to a much harder camp.
This camp saw him, and many others, brutally beaten, subjected to medical experiments, tortured, used as slave labour, and all at the order of the sadistic camp leader Mutsuhiro Watanabe called “The Bird” who personally wanted to break Zamperini.
He didn't, even up to the point the war ended, however once he was freed and returned home he was a very troubled man and the treatment he received haunted his nightmares and even caused him to try to choke his wife in his sleep. He was distraught and on the verge of a breakdown.
It was at that point he discovered religion, or rather the preaching of a man called Billy Graham. That inspired him to forgive the guards, return to Japan and even talk with some of them. However despite the fact that the camp leader was still alive, he refused to meet with Zamperini.
Now that's a hell of a story to tell and you can see a powerful film from that story.
According to Deadline Universal bought the rights to Louis Zamperini's autobiography Devil at my Heels back in 1957 along with the rights to his life story. Back then Tony Curtis was expected to play the man, however the project halted and was never seen again until 1998.
It was then that some footage of Zamperini carrying the Olympic torch brought his story back to the fore and word was that Nicolas Cage was set to play the man with Antoine Fuqua looking to push forward with a film which even had a script from Robert Schenkkan and Neil Tolkin. However that too faltered.
Now it's Hillenbrand's book that has made the project resurface and looks set to become a hugely powerful film. We just have to hope that the project moves forward this time and that there is strong talent involved with it, for this could be a great film of an incredible story, and by all accounts the book itself is a very moving one.
The fact that Francis Lawrence is apparently in talks to direct is really promising, and there's the fact that Scott Cooper is being rumoured to write the script, the man who wrote Crazy Heart. Lawrence is a fantastic director and Cooper is an emotionally strong writer, so the next piece of the puzzle would be the lead actor.