Angelina Jolie to direct biopic of Olympian-turned-war-hero Louis Zamperini

12.18.12 5 years ago 27 Comments

AP Photo/Karim Kadim

Angelina Jolie is taking on another war-torn tale of survival.

The Oscar-winning megastar is in final talks with Universal and Walden Media to direct “Unbroken,” a biopic of Olympian-turned-war-hero Louis Zamperini. Based on the bestselling 2010 book “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption” by Laura Hillebrand, the film will tell the harrowing story of Zamperini’s brutal internment in a Japanese prison camp during WWII.

“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,” said Jolie in a statement. “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.”

Jolie will oversee development of a final script (the most recent draft was penned by Oscar-nominated “Les Miserables” screenwriter William Nicholson) before going into production on the film sometime next year.

According to Deadline, which got the exclusive, Universal purchased Zamperini’s life rights back in the 1950s, during which time Tony Curtis was interested in starring as the real-life hero. However, it was only after the publication and ensuing success of Hillebrand’s book six decades later that momentum on the long-dormant project ramped up once again.

Raised in Torrance, CA to Italian immigrant parents, Louis Zamperini set records as a high-school track star and later competed at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, where Adolf Hilter requested a special meeting with him after being impressed with his lightning-quick final lap in the 5000 meters (Zamperini finished eighth overall).

With the outbreak of WWII frustrating his ambitions to compete in the 1940 Games in Tokyo, Zamperini enlisted in the U.S. Air Force the following year. His ordeal began while on a rescue mission several months later, when his plane experienced a mechanical failure and crashed over the Pacific, killing eight of the eleven passengers aboard.

After enduring a shark-and-hunger-ravaged 47 days adrift with his two surviving crew mates (one of whom died while at sea), Zamperini was captured by the Japanese Navy and thrown in one of the country’s notorious prison camps, where he was brutally tortured for over three years before gaining his freedom at war’s end. Haunted by his mistreatment at the hands of a sadistic prison guard named Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe and suffering from severe post-traumatic stress disorder, Zamperini became a born-again Christian after attending a crusade led by televangelist Billy Graham, who later helped him to establish a successful career as a motivational speaker.

Astonishingly enough, Zamperini may actually live to see his story play out on the big screen – he turned 96 earlier this year.

Jolie made her directorial debut on last year’s Bosnian war drama “In the Land of Blood and Honey,” which scored mixed reviews and failed to catch on with audiences despite her considerable name value (the film barely managed $300K in its theatrical release). She’ll next be seen in Disney’s revisionist fairy tale retread “Maleficent” as the famed “Sleeping Beauty” villainess of the title.

Are you interested in seeing Zamperini’s story on the big screen? Do you think Jolie can pull it off? Sound off in the comments.

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