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(2018) (Samuel Hunt, Merrit Patterson) (PG-13)

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Drama: Following his release from a WWII Japanese POW camp, an American GI must contend with his PTSD related to his former captor and subsequent alcoholism, all of which puts a strain on his marriage.
While former Olympic runner Louis Zamperini (SAMUEL HUNT) is happy to return to the States and his family -- including older brother Pete (BOBBY CAMPO) --after being freed from a Japanese POW camp at the end of WWII, he discovers that the war won't leave him alone. He has repeated flashbacks and hallucinations featuring his former brutal captor, Mutsuhiro "The Bird" Watanabe (DAVID SAKURAI), and thus takes to the bottle to try to deal with those.

On a happier side, he's met and then married Cynthia Applewhite (MERRIT PATTERSON) and they have a daughter, but as the troubling memories and images still haunt him and as he can't find work, his drinking increases, thus putting an ever-increasing strain on his marriage and family life. All to the point that Cynthia threatens to leave him if he doesn't do something -- even if it's just to attend a revival put on by Billy Graham (WILL GRAHAM) -- but Louis wants no part of him due to believing that God has abandoned him. From that point on, it might just take divine intervention to save him and his marriage.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
With the passing of Senator John McCain, everyone was reminded of his many years in a Vietnamese POW camp where he was tormented and tortured for years yet managed not only to survive, but also thrive upon his release.

Granted, only he and those close to him knew what level of PTSD he suffered immediately and then years and decades after that. You'd never know that only taking his public appearances -- of which there were thousands, what with being in the Senate and then running for President -- but you can only imagine he battled some sort of demons in private.

Of course, he wasn't the only person ever to have to contend with both the internment and then the aftermath, not only as related to that specific war, but others as well. One of the other most famous such examples revolved around Louis Zamperini whose bomber was shot down in the Pacific during WWII. He then survived adrift at sea for a month and a half before finally being captured and then held at a Japanese POW camp where he was physically and psychologically abused by his captors, most notably one sadistic prison official, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, also known as "The Bird."

That part of his story -- and his time before that as an Olympic runner -- was detailed in director Angelina Jolie's "Unbroken," the 2014 film based on the book by Laura Hillenbrand. But his story didn't end there as he returned home, battled the twin demons of PTSD and alcoholism, and then found religion again via a Billy Graham revival that turned his life around and helped him live to the ripe old age of 97 spreading the word of God.

That second half of his tale is now covered in the unofficial sequel to Jolie's film, "Unbroken: Path to Redemption." After beginning with a scene of Louis (Samuel Hunt, taking over the role from Jack O'Connell) visiting a Japanese prison holding his former captors five years after the war, the film -- directed by Harold Cronk from the screenplay adaptation of Hillenbrand's book by Richard Friedenberg and Ken Hixon -- heads back to the protagonist's return to his home and family in Torrance, California.

It's not long before he meets and falls for a young woman, Cynthia (Merrit Patterson), and they end up married and then have their first child. But repeated nightmares, flashbacks, and hallucinations featuring Watanabe (David Sakurai) set in the past in Japan as well as in his current locale lead him to the bottle. And we all know that such a short-term "solution" to PTSD will have long-lasting negative results. Not surprisingly, that puts a strain on his relationship with his wife, thus worrying her as well as Louis' brother (Bobby Campo).

Hunt and Patterson are good in their roles as the husband and wife, but despite the drama related to the PTSD, unemployment, attempting to return to Olympic runner form and alcoholism, as well as decently staged hallucination scenes featuring his former captor and tormentor, much of the effort surprisingly feels somewhat flat.

And while I understand it's the point of the movie (revolving around the protagonist finally finding religion again and that saving his life), there's a literal use of deus ex machina to resolve and wrap up matters far too quickly and easily at the end of the third act following all of the preceding build-up. Yes, that does happen to people in real-life (and apparently did to Zamperini), but it feels a bit too abrupt here in terms of the film's storytelling.

That, and much of the material feeling inert rather than gripping, engaging or at least emotionally involving means that "Unbroken: Path to Redemption" rates no better than a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed September 7, 2018 / Posted September 14, 2018

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