Saturday, September 20, 2014

Reel People: Jack O'Connell is Louis Zamperini

The film is Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie. The screenplay is written by Joel & Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, and William Nicholson. The film is based on the book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand.

Louis "Louie" Zamperini

Louis was born in New York in 1917. He was born of Italian immigrants, the second of four children. A few years after his birth his family moved to Torrance, California. Where we would grow up, including his attendance at Torrance High School. While at Torrance High School he joined his older brother Pete on the track team. While breaking records he would go on to get a scholarship to the University of Southern California.

In 1936 he decided to try out for the Olympics, and qualified at the age of 19 to compete in the 5000 meter in the Berlin Summer Games. He would finish 8th, but is said to have caught the eye of Hitler at the games for his fast finish in the final lap.

In 1941 Louis enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces where he was deployed to the pacific island of Fanafuti, as crew member of a B-24 bomber.

In 1943, when the bomber ("Super Man") was damaged in combat, Louis was assigned to search for lost crew members utilizing another plan ("The Green Hornet") which crashed while on the search. Only three of the 11 crew members survived the crash.  Louis, along with the other two crew members Russel Alan Phillips and Frances McNamera were adrift 47 days at sea until they reached the Marshall Islands were they were captured by the Japanese Navy.

While captives, they were poorly treated, and Louis Zamperini was transferred between a number of Prisoner of War camps before being released after the war ended in 1945.

After his release he would return to the United States, having previously been declared dead following the 1943 B-24 crash. He would get married to Cynthia Applewhite, a celebrated in his home town. The Torrance Airport was renamed Zamperini Field in his honor in December 1946.

Upon his return though, he found himself traumatized by his experience, regularly having nightmares of his experiences, notably his prison guard tormented Mutsuhiro Watanabe ("the bird") from the Naoetsu Prisoner of War Camp his final POW camp from the end of the war.

His wife persuaded Louis to attend a Billy Graham crusade in 1949, and although he stormed out the first night was persuaded to attend a second night where he became a follower of Jesus.

Louis Zamperini quickly became sharing his new found faith with a number of different communities and church groups. In 1950 he returned to Japan to share his faith in the country, sharing a message of forgiveness, and offering forgiveness to Japanese war criminals who had previously been his tormentors.

Zamperini would go on to have a career in commercial real-estate while staying active in his church and community.

In 2001 his wife Cynthia died.

In 2014, Louis Zamperini died of pneumonia in his home at the age of of 97. His survivors included daughter Cynthia, and son Luke.


The film Unbroken tells Zamperini's story with particular focus on his WWII story.

In addition to Jack O'Connell playing the role of Louis Zamperini, the film also stars Domhnall Gleeson (Russel "Phil" Phillips) and Finn Whitrock (Francis "Mac" McNemera). Japenese musical Artist Miyavi plays Mutsuhiro Watanabe. Morgan Griffin plays the role of Cynthia Applewhite. The film also stars Jai Courtney, Garrett Hedlund, and Alex Russell.

Jack O'Connell is relatively unknown, but will his feature role in a potential Oscar darling propel him into the Oscar spotlight for his role as this Real (Reel) Person?