Months after conquering the summer box office with “Maleficent,” her most profitable film ever, Angelina Jolie returns to the screens on Christmas Day with “Unbroken,” her second feature as a director following 2011’s bleak war drama “In the Land of Blood and Honey.” The Universal Pictures release received no festival play and only screened for press a few weeks back, meaning Jolie’s been tirelessly promoting her film with awards season now in full swing.
Earlier this month, Jolie and some of her “Unbroken” (and admittedly hunky) male cast (Jack O’Connell, Garrett Hedlund, Takamasa Ishihara and Finn Wittrock), attended a lunch hosted by Universal Pictures Chairman Donna Langley at New York’s ridiculously swanky Metropolitan Club. (Prior to attending the event, this writer was informed he had to wear a dinner jacket or wouldn’t be admitted.)
Based on a true story, the drama, co-scripted by the Coen Brothers, centers on Olympian runner Louis Zamperini (O’Connell), who was taken prisoner by Japanese forces during World War II. The film marks a huge leap for Jolie, whose “In the Land of Blood and Honey” also dealt with war, but on a much smaller scale.
“Unbroken” is especially dear to Jolie’s heart.
“Every project is different, and there are some that, no matter what aspect of it you’re working on, are just dear to your heart. This one, because of the subject matter, I believe in its message. I personally love this man. We are responsible for his legacy. So, to make sure people understand who he was, why he mattered and what he wanted to say, is a huge responsibility.”
Jolie has long wanted to work with Universal as a director.
“When you’re an actress trying to be a director and you meet with studios — you meet with different studios — and I wanted to meet with Donna [Langley] at Universal. I wanted to have a chance to work with her studio one day as a director. I got this list of open directing assignments and it’s just four sentences for each thing, all these different projects. And you don’t think you’re ever going to get one of these jobs — you just read them: ‘This is something I can try to talk to Mrs. Langley about, and sound intelligent. Maybe she’ll think of me in the future.’ But I came across the few sentences on ‘Unbroken,’ and the strength of the human spirit, obviously you can’t sum up this movie in four sentences. I read about him and his life and I met with Donna. As I was leaving, she said, ‘Read the book.’ Then we started talking, and I was halfway through the book, and just — I was so inspired by this story, this man, and the idea that I could spend years of my life walking in his footsteps and being a part of this story and putting his message in the world.”
Jolie is enamored with her “Unbroken” subject.
Zamperini was closely involved with the project up until his death in July.
“Louie was a part of the journey from the beginning, so we all spent time with him, and he was aware of the choices we made in the script. We’d call him sometimes and say, ‘Does the raft look right?,’ ‘Did you or did you not have a screwdriver?'”
Jolie screened “Unbroken” for Zamperini at the hospital.
“We found out that he’d gone to the hospital. And so we had it downloaded on my laptop. I drove to the hospital, and I held it like this over him so he could see it. It’s hard to explain — how do you explain that moment? It wasn’t a judgment on a film and how well-acted or well-crafted it was, it was a man watching his life. It was a man at the end of his life, his extraordinary life. This mountain of a man, his physical strength…at 97 years-old, not able to…I had to help him with a glass of water. Watching himself run and win in the Olympics, watching his brother, watching his mother make gnocchi, watching all that he accomplished, watching what he survived. And remembering, because he was a man of such strong faith — I know he was preparing himself to die. It was watching somebody relive all their experiences, and prepare for that great, powerful, inspiring, extraordinary long life to end.”