Cast: Samuel Hunt, Merritt Patterson, Vincenzo Amato, Vanessa Bell Calloway
Director: Harold Cronk
Synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes: Based on Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling book, UNBROKEN: PATH TO REDEMPTION begins where the hit movie Unbroken concludes, sharing the next amazing chapter of the unbelievable true story of Olympian and World War II hero Louis Zamperini. Haunted by nightmares of his torment, Louie sees himself as anything but a hero. Then, he meets Cynthia, a young woman who captures his eye-and his heart. Louie’s wrathful quest for revenge drives him deeper into despair, putting the couple on the brink of divorce. Until Cynthia experiences Billy Graham’s 1949 Los Angeles Crusade where she finds faith in God and a renewed commitment to her marriage and her husband. Now, her most fervent prayer is for God to help Louie find the peace and forgiveness he so desperately needs. UNBROKEN: PATH TO REDEMPTION brings to life the rest of this powerful real-life story of forgiveness, redemption, and amazing grace.
After watching Unbroken back in 2014, did you ever think to yourself, “that movie was ok, but what it needed was more Jesus in it?” Well, to the extremely few people who had that thought, you are in luck, because Pure Flix has answered your burning desire. Maker of all-time great films like Sampson and God’s Not Dead, Pure Flix is the most trusted studio in the film industry and I could not wait to see how they improved upon this Oscar season flop and turned it into the film it was meant to be. In all seriousness though, this may be the best film Pure Flix has ever released and is certainly the best film they have released this year. While it still has its usual Pure Flix issues like mediocre acting and a $10 effects budget, the story is interesting enough where even though I knew where it was going, I was intrigued as to how they got there.
The story follows Louis Zamperini (Hunt), a former prisoner of war in Japan during World War II who has returned to California after the war has ended. After experiencing the horrors of war as a prisoner, Zamperini heads back to his old life, but he cannot shake the suffering of his past and he deals with it in unhealthy ways. As his new life suffers due to the consequences of Zamperini’s PTSD, Zamperini must find a healthy way to deal with his pain or he risks losing everything he loves in his life. Starting off with the acting, Hunt actually does a pretty decent job in the lead role. It is not nearly as good as Jack O’Connell in 2014’s telling of this story, but the roles they play are two very different characters. While O’Connell’s performance is brutally physical, Hunt has to focus more on the mental aspect of the fallout of his torture and how that impacts his daily life. Hunt has a couple of scenes where he really reaches out and grabs the audience and he is far and away the best lead actor in a Pure Flix movie. While the supporting characters do not do a whole lot with their limited screentime, Hunt does decent enough to carry the story on his own. Speaking of the story, it is actually pretty interesting for about 75% through the movie. There is solid character development, and the plot is cohesive enough for the audience to easily follow along. Does it pander to Christian viewers? Absolutely, but I believe everyone knew the drill going into this movie. Where the film falls apart is during the climax. As Zamperini goes to meet Billy Graham (Will Graham), a Christian pastor who spends his life traveling around the country spreading his religion, Zamperini just kind of gives in and joins the religion. While the downfall of Zamperini’s life is well presented throughout the film, the jump to Christianity is not sold very well. With the exception of a few invites from Zamperini’s wife (Patterson), there is no real reason for Zamperini to choose this as his personal salvation. There are a few scenes sprinkled in that are supposed to show us that Zamperini was always supposed to turn to God, but these scenes are so infrequent and meaningless that they do not have the emotional weight that the film is looking for. Finally, Pure Flix dramatically increased their effects budget for this movie from about $2 in their previous movies up to about a whopping $10 in this movie. All jokes aside, the visuals are noticeably better, especially with the amount of sequences that are shot using water which is incredibly difficult to do. While there are still the usual issues that Pure Flix films have regarding the terrible use of green screen in the boat scenes, it is still a step in the right direction.
Overall, while not a particularly good movie, this is a major step up from what I have experienced from Pure Flix in the past. It only panders to a minimal degree, the acting is borderline serviceable, and the story is complex and interesting if not a bit clichéd. For the first time in my life, I can proudly say I am exciting to what happens to Pure Flix moving forward and if they can capitalize on the opportunity to improve in the future.
Overall Score: 4/10