Universal has optioned the film rights to Laura Hillenbrand’s latest non-fiction tale of triumph of the American spirit, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. According to Deadline, Universal, the studio that turned Hillenbrand’s first non-fiction bestseller, Seabiscuit, into an inspirational film phenomenon nearly on par with that of the book (if not the thoroughbred), has hammered out a deal to produce a film based on Hillenbrand’s telling of the incredible true story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic track star who endured unimaginable litany of abuse and hardship during his tour of duty as an Air Force pilot bombardier. The short version: His plane crashes into the Pacific. He survives forty-seven days at sea on a flimsy raft. He trades unrelenting hunger and shark attacks for a fate much worse when he’s held captive as a POW and routinely tortured by the Japanese army until the end of the war. And then comes the revenge mission. It’s an incredible story complete with a tailor-made Hollywood ending — one that’s so outlandishly heroic, it would be tough to believe if it weren’t backed up by Hillenbrand’s notoriously exhaustive research and Zamperini’s own 1957 memoir, Devil at My Heels.
Universal has reportedly already zeroed in on a director, Francis Lawrence, a moody, stylistic filmmaker, who established himself early on with dark sci-fi thrillers like “Constantine” and “I Am Legend.” However, he recently shifted gears in style and substance, with his adaptation of the beloved Sara Gruen novel Water for Elephants, about a recently orphaned veterinary student who drops out of school to join the circus. Though Lawrence may not be the most obvious choice to direct “Unbroken” — that would have to be Spielberg, no? — his version is guaranteed to drive home story’s visceral intensity, conveying the internal and external horrors Zamperini endured at sea and behind enemy lines with palpable, in-your-face immediacy.
Another wild card potential hire: Scott Cooper, who wrote and directed last year’s “Crazy Heart” (for which Jeff Bridges finally won his long overdue Best Actor Oscar), has been mentioned to adapt the script. Kind of makes you wonder who they’ll pull out of left field to play Zamperini. That leaves out Christian Bale or Jeremy Renner — they’d be too obvious, right?