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Review: ‘Unbroken: Path to Redemption’ is a fussy correction to its predecessor

Samuel Hunt and Merritt Patterson in “Unbroken: Path to Redemption.” (Universal)
Samuel Hunt and Merritt Patterson in “Unbroken: Path to Redemption.” (Universal)
By Katie Walsh Tribune News Service

“Didn’t we already get an ‘Unbroken’ movie?” you might ask, about “Unbroken: Path to Redemption.” Is it even possible to have a sequel to a biopic? Faith-based film production company PureFlix thinks so. “Unbroken: Path to Redemption” serves as a bit of a coda to Angelina Jolie’s 2014 film about the amazing World War II survival story of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini, a minor corrective.

Both films take Laura Hillenbrand’s biography as inspiration and adaptation material, but “Path to Redemption” picks up where Jolie’s film faded into text. All the truly dramatic events from Zamperini’s life like 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 – all that is 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.

Written by Richard Friedberg and Ken Hixon, 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 the Japanese guard that tormented him, “Bird” Watanabe (David Sakurai).

There’s not all too much story to fill in the gaps left untold by Jolie’s film, but “Path to Redemption” zeroes in on Louis’ struggles to adapt back to life, even after getting married to his wife, 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 grandson and preacher 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 to do is let his guard down, let go of his ego and ask for help in a humble way. It could be Jesus Christ or anything spiritual that happens to show up on the day you’re ready to let it all go. It just happened to be Billy Graham for Louis.

But with all the focus on the bottom, “Path to Redemption” misses a lot of the good stuff at the top. The film is bookended with a trip back to Japan in 1950, photographed by Time magazine, where Louis demonstrates the power of forgiveness, a tenant of his faith.

Hunt gives it as all as the tortured Louis, but Patterson is the heart and soul of the film, giving a far more interesting performance as his long-suffering wife. While “Unbroken: Path to Redemption” provides some of the best production value 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 correction to a film about Zamperini that already exists.

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