I finally finished the book last week and saw the movie over the weekend. I wasn’t sure what to expect. A lot of comments I’d heard and reviews I’d read were fairly harsh.
I thought it was excellent. Director Angelina Jolie took a complex and sprawling story and put it on screen to run just a bit over two hours.
A few details were changed or glossed over, but the essence of the story was true to itself
Louis Zamperini was an incorrigible delinquent in Torrance, California until he discovered running. He was a star runner for Torrance High and went to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. He planned to return to the Olympics in Tokyo in 1942. He did go to Japan, but as a Prisoner of War, after floating on a life raft for 47 days across the Pacific.
Some of the book’s details were compressed. The only real change I caught was toward the end when, in the movie, Zamperini and his fellow POWs were enslaved by their Japanese captors and forced to work in the coal mines. In the book, Zamperini did have to work, but not in the coal mines. Only enlisted men were forced to the mines. Officers (Zamperini was a captain) had other work.
I understand why the screenwriter, director, and producer changed it. The image of so many skeletal men trudging up and down walkways with baskets of coal while coated in black dust was striking on screen. It was a small detail and I don’t have a problem with it. The beatings Zamperini endured were mostly off-screen but no less horrible in the imagination. There were some kind Japanese guards and they weren’t shown. Altogether, I think the small changes were understandable and forgivable.
Many book to movie adaptions lose something in the transition. The two art forms are so different.
Before we saw the movie, we watched a profile Tom Brokaw did of Louis Zamperini and the movie and Angelina Jolie. Her passion for this project was evident as was Zamperini’s regard for her. His determination and perseverance inspired her to do his story proud. I believe she did.