“The movie is never as good as the book,” so the saying goes. As always, there are exceptions; for example The Hunger Games and Tuesdays with Morrie were both better on the screen. Having read Unbroken when it first came out and now having seen the movie, I feel that the question is somewhat irrelevant. Both are excellent–and different.
Hillenbrand’s book tells an astonishing true tale. Louie Zamperini had a half dozen amazing episodes in his life–and if only one had happened, the book would have been a remarkable account of perseverance and strength in the midst of adversity. But all six episodes happened–to one man.
To cover everything the book does, a screen version would take a twelve-part mini series. So to quibble about what is left out in the movie, is just that, I think. To quibble. The movie does a excellent job of portraying part of Zamperini’s story, and does so in a way that is true to the book and true to Zamperini.
Sure, the movie left out Zamperini’s encounter with Hitler at the 1936 Olympics, the Japanese spy Zamperini met at USC before the war (and then during the war in Japan!), as well as Louie’s titanic struggle with post-traumatic stress syndrome and alcoholism after the war, and how he ultimately served God with the last sixty years of his life. The religious themes are hinted at appropriately at the beginning, middle and end of the movie. After all, the movie begins in a church.
It would have been easy for both Hillenbrand and director Jolie to go way over the top with both the horror and the triumph of the story. But the story is incredible enough that they both made the wise decision to not embellish unnecessarily.
Each genre has its own advantages. Movies allow for compactness of expression and a rich visual and auditory experience. In the case of Unbroken, the book genre allows for a richness of detail about the larger war effort, the individuals Louie encountered, The Bird’s back story and much more. The movie is definitely worth seeing on its own merits. At the same time Hillenbrands’s unmatched research and story-telling skills make her book a must read.