EXCLUSIVE: A sequel of Unbroken is on the way from the film’s original producer Matt Baer and God’s Not Dead franchise director Harold Cronk which looks at the life of hero Louis Zamperini post WWII. The faith-based film — to be distributed by Pure Flix — is based on the second half of the book from author Laura Hillenbrand. The film is entitled Unbroken: Path to Redemption.
The film will pick up where the first left off and follows Zamperini’s life after the war and his struggle to get back on his feet after suffering PTSD, falling into despair and alcoholism. The young soldier would be put back on the right path by the Rev. Billy Graham (now 97). Samuel Hunt (Chicago P.D.) will portray Zamperini while Merritt Patterson (The Royals) will play his wife Cynthia. Graham’s grandson, Will, will portray his namesake in the movie in his first feature role.
The film, which started shooting today, continues with the love story between Louis and Cynthia and delves into how PTSD impacted their relationship and what it took for Louis to get back on his feet. The Unbroken IP, which is now a known brand to audiences since the 2014 movie was released by Universal, now organically crosses into the faith-based genre. “I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity to tell the amazing post-war story of Louis Zamperini’s life that I am confident is going to appeal to both the secular and faith-based audience,” said Baer.
Unbroken: Path to Redemption was written by Richard Friedenberg (A River Runs Through it) and Ken Hixon (City by the Sea). It is being produced by The WTA Group in partnership with Universal 1440 Entertainment. Michael Elliott also serves as producer. The film’s executive producers are Dave Mechem, Luke Zamperini, Cynthia Garris, Erik Weir and Pure Flix founding partner Michael Scott.
The first Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie which garnered three Oscar noms, told the story of one man’s survival against impossible odds — an Olympic athlete named Louis Zamperini who ended up in WWII fighting the Japanese. When the rescue plane he was on had a mechanical failure, he ended up in the ocean, surviving 47 days in a lifeboat only to be rescued by the enemy and thrown into a concentration camp where he was pyschologically tortured and relentlessly beaten at the hand of a Japanese officer known as “the Bird.” The movie grossed $163.4M worldwide.
“The life of American Olympian, WWII airman, castaway and P.O.W. Louie Zamperini is a story so extraordinary, it staggers the imagination,” Hillenbrand said of the new film. “It is a life rich in lessons for all of us—lessons in resilience and ingenuity, grace and humanity, forgiveness and the redemptive power of faith. I am so pleased to see his story brought back to the screen, where it will continue to inspire audiences.”
This sequel will follow Zamperini after his return to California where he wound up marrying Cynthia Applewhite while still wrestling with untreated PTSD. Suffering constant nightmares, angry, bitter and deeply depressed, his wife convinces Zamperini to attend the 1949 Billy Graham crusade.
“My grandfather was 30 years old in 1949. He went eight weeks preaching in the crusade for God. Louis came three-quarters of the way through. The crusade started Sept. 25th and was only scheduled for three weeks,” Will Graham told Deadline. But that crusade went longer after an impossible convert — a popular Los Angeles radio personality who was an alcoholic named Stuart Hamblen. Later Jim Vaus, Jr., the wiretapper for mobster Mickey Cohen, also converted.
Because the crusade was extended after Hamblen’s conversion to Christ, Zamperini, at his wife’s urging ,went to hear the now legendary evangelist Billy Graham. “Alcohol was destroying his marriage,” said Will Graham. “So (Zamperini) went and listened to my grandfather and hated everything he heard and walked out the back. After fighting with his wife, he realized something that he had promised God when he was out on the ocean. He would serve Him forever if he made it out of that. He realized that God kept his word but he hadn’t. He went again (to the crusade) but when he got up to leave, he felt like he couldn’t physically leave and then he gave his life to Christ. His nightmares stopped. He got his Bible that he got when he first join the Army and started to read it and he stopped drinking.”
Deeply affected by God’s word as preached by Graham, Louie made a commitment to Christ that restored his faith. Thus began the extraordinary healing process of forgiving his captors.
“Before PTSD even had a name or diagnosis, far too many World War II veterans like Louie battled this invisible pain,” said Glenn Ross, general manger and exec VP of Universal 1440 Entertainment. Added Pure Flix’s Scott: “The strength, courage and faith of Louis Zamperini is remarkable.”
Will Graham, who followed in both his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps said it is an honor to portray his grandfather in this film. “It’s a privilege but I have to say I’m nervous. I’m a preacher not an actor. I’m only doing in the movie what I do in life, and I am praying that God gives me the ability to do this,” said Graham. “I’m definitely out of my comfort zone but that just means I’ll be relying on God more. There are a lot of Louis-es in this life and we would like this movie to have an impact on people’s lives on a spiritual level and bring more people to God.”
Hunt is repped by APA and Henraux Management; Patterson is repped by Atlas Artists, ICM Partners and KC Talent in Vancouver.