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Review: 'Unbroken: Path to Redemption' continues story of Louis Zamperini with a focus on faith

Review: 'Unbroken: Path to Redemption' continues story of Louis Zamperini with a focus on faith
Merritt Patterson and Samuel Hunt in the film "Unbroken: Path to Redemption." (Tony Rivetti Jr. / Pure Flix Entertainment)

“Didn't we already get an ‘Unbroken' movie?” you might ask. Nevertheless, faith-based film distributor PureFlix serves up “Unbroken: Path to Redemption” as a coda, or a minor corrective, to Angelina Jolie's 2014 film about the amazing World War II survival story of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini.

Both films take Laura Hillenbrand's biography as inspiration, but “Path to Redemption” picks up where Jolie's film faded into text. All the truly dramatic events from Zamperini's life — the 1936 Berlin Olympics, being shot down in the Pacific and surviving on a raft for 47 days, his time in a Japanese prisoner of war camp and being declared dead — are shoehorned into an opening credit sequence depicted in newspaper clippings. For “Path to Redemption,” the action starts back home, after the near-death experiences and hero’s welcome.

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Written by Richard Friedenberg and Ken Hixon and directed by PureFlix journeyman Harold Cronk, “Unbroken: Path to Redemption” is a story about PTSD and the difficulties of normal life after surviving events that are very much not normal. The highs and lows go away, and plopped back in suburban Torrance, Calif., war hero Louis (Samuel Hunt) finds himself at loose ends and at the bottom of the bottle, the only way he knows how to cope with the terrifying flashbacks he endures of his crash, the raft, the prison camp and “Bird” Watanabe (David Sakurai), the Japanese guard that tormented him.

There's not much story to fill in the gaps left untold by Jolie's film, but “Path to Redemption” zeroes in on Louis' struggles to adapt, even after marrying Cynthia (Merritt Patterson) and having a daughter. It's an endless cycle of nightmares, drinking and career failures until Louis inches closer to rock bottom. It's not until his wife convinces him to attend a tent revival hosted by Billy Graham (played by Graham’s grandson Will Graham) does Louis see another way out.

The journey from rock bottom to seeing the light is one we've seen before, and “Path to Redemption” doesn't break the mold, relying on melodrama and stereotypes to get us where we're going. The hardest thing for Louis is to let down his guard, let go of his ego and ask for help. It could be Jesus Christ or anything spiritual that happens to show up on the day you're ready to let it all go. For Louis, it just happened to be Billy Graham.

Hunt gives it his all his the tortured Louis, but Patterson is the heart and soul of the film, giving a far more interesting performance as Zamperini’s long-suffering wife. While “Unbroken: Path to Redemption” provides some of the best production values for a PureFlix film to date, its focus on one moment in a life of incredible moments makes it feel unnecessarily prolonged, and a fussy addition to a film about Zamperini that already exists.

Katie Walsh is a Tribune News Service film critic

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‘Unbroken: Path to Redemption'

Rated: PG-13, for thematic content and related disturbing images

Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes

Playing: Starts Sept 14, in general release

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