The last movie Angelina Jolie directed, “The Land of Milk and Honey,” was a tough, grueling, brutal look at the Bosnian war. Her latest, “Unbroken,” is a tough, grueling, brutal look at the life of Louie Zamperini (played by Jack O’Connell), an Olympian whose service in WWII led him to spending 47 days on a life raft, then another 2 ½ years in Japanese POW camps. But Jolie insists her latest, based on Laura Hillenbrand’s bestseller, is more of a crowd pleaser.
What drove her to make this: “Like everybody we wake up and read the news. We see the events around the world. We’re disheartened by so much. We feel overwhelemed and we don’t know what’s possible. I was halfway through this book and I found myself inspired and on fire. I realized if this was happening to me and I knew it had had that effect on so many other people, then this was what we needed to put forward into this world at this time. I’m happy it’s coming out during the holidays. It’s the right time.”
Its message: “I thought often while making this film about my children. I think we want to remind them of this generation and their sense of family and community and honor. I want my children to know about men like Louis. When they feel bad about themselves and think all is lost, they should know they’ve got something inside of them that this story speaks to. You don’t have to be a perfect person or a saint or a hero. Louis was very flawed, very human, but made great choices and in the end is a great man.”
How two of her cowriters advised: “The Coen brothers told me something that helped. They said when you put a book down you have a certain feeling and a certain understanding. That what [the audience] needs to feel when they walk out of the theater. That’s your job. If you literally put this book on film, you won’t make a good movie. You won’t be of service to anyone.”
They also made sure it wouldn’t be too mawkish: “This film could have easily gone sentimental. It could be too earnest. We had to keep it sharp and keep it open and keep it entertaining for an audience. [The Coen brothers] were great with personalities and with structure. Being directors — and being the Coen brothers — they were just so brilliant. Especially the last hour they just helped it all come together.”
Having to gut the book: “I think a lot of our favorite stories aren’t in the film. You could make a whole film on Fitzgerald [a fellow P.O.W. played by Garrett Hedlund]. You could do a whole story on the raft. When we were doing the film I would be carrying the book around. A lot of people would say, ‘That’s my favorite book. You know what my favorite is?’ And I would say, ‘Don’t tell me!’ I’d imagine it was when he stole the Nazi flag, something I jut can’t recreate on the streets of Berlin. I don’t what to know! [Laughs]"
The first cut: “It was 3 ½ hours. And what was dangerous about it was I liked it. You’d be sure you’d think it was too long. But I thought, ‘That feels good to me!’ In the end there were about four or five scenes that didn’t make it. Everything else was trimmed. … You have to listen to the audience and what they’re feeling. If they’re saying, ‘I like that scene but the raft stuff feels too long,’ you’ve got to listen. Sometimes you make a film and it’s very much your artistic creation and you’re putting something unusual out there. But this was one for the audience.”
Stretching herself: “If you’d asked me a few years ago, ‘What kind of film do you want to make?’ I would never have assumed to make a film that included shark attacks and plane crashes. I would never have thought of myself as able to handle that kind of cinematic filmmaking. But I cared about the story so much I had to learn how to do them.”