I get pretty excited when a movie comes along that incorporates running as one of its story elements. There have been some great movies about running, or that featured running heavily (e.g. Forest Gump), as well as some real dopes. After seeing the trailer for Unbroken (#UnbrokenMovie) I got revved up by a story about Olympic runner Louis Zamperini. I got out my notepad and headed for the multi-plex to see if you runners might like the film.First things first, the trailer advertising the film is 2 minutes and 36 seconds long. A full forty seconds of the first minute features the running story. That’s more than a passing mention. You can certainly come away with the idea that this is a movie about running, but it really isn’t. It IS the story of an Olympic runner and it IS the story of war hero who suffers horrendous torture as a prisoner of war. However, out of the lengthy two hour and seventeen minute (2:17:00) movie only about 10-12 minutes is actually about running. (Side note: I find the timing interesting here in that Paula Radcliffe’s most recognized women’s world record in the Marathon is 2:17:18. Co-incidence? She actually ran her fastest marathon in 2:15:25, or about two minutes less than it took to tell this story.)
Back to the running. I’ll first give the filmmakers props for doing a nice job shooting the few running scenes in the film. Capturing runners is tough to do, because they’re moving — and they move fast. That means that you need to have the cameras in motion and keep them stable while doing so. Most movies about running minimize this by having the runners run past stationary cameras, which means you get quick glimpses of the action rather than sustained shots. But here, we see some nice sustained action shots of the runners racing around the vintage dirt tracks of the era. The long-spiked style shoes look authentic enough and leading actor Jack O’Connell looks right at home whizzing around the track.
So how do they do with the history as it relates to Zamperini’s running? Again, they do a passing job. They compress the story by sort of rolling a number of important races into one. The film shows Zamperini being spiked in the shin and then surging to win a high-school track competition. This more famously happened in a later competition when Zamperini ran his personal best mile in college at the University of Southern California (although it may have happened any number of times in that era.) Also, the announcer concludes the call of the race in the film by saying, “… and with that, he qualifies to go to the Olympics.” That’s not quite true. In this particular race, Zamperini did set a world interscholastic mile record of 4:21.2, but this did not qualify him for the Olympics. It wasn’t until two years later in 1936 that he qualified for the Olympics in what can only be described as one of his most amazing performances. In the 1936 Olympic Trials, Zamperini finished in a dead-heat tie with American Record Holder Don Lash in record high-temperatures. The race was so hot that several runners collapsed during the race. I really question why the writers would leave out this performance, but then with the film at 2:17:00 in length, we can probably guess.
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