The world’s most famous couple bring the heroism and horror of war to the big screen.
Arguably Hollywood’s most powerful couple – and certainly its most photogenic – Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are bringing two contrasting stories of the Second World War to the big screen this autumn.
Pitt stars in brutal tank picture Fury, opening this Thursday, while Jolie is stepping behind the camera with Unbroken, an extraordinary true story of hope and survival against the odds. It was one that Pitt could actually have starred in a long time ago, as its development process has been so protracted. Jolie had been looking for a second film to direct after her harsh and impressive debut In The Land Of Blood And Honey, and thought the story was intriguing. ‘It sounded interesting,’ she told Empire magazine, ‘And I actually came home and [mentioned it] to Brad and he said, “Oh, honey, that’s been around forever. I heard about it 20 years ago!” Like, “That’s the movie that nobody ever makes, but everybody talks about”.’ It’s the story of Louis ‘Louie’ Zamperini (played by Jack O’Connell) who went from being a teenage troublemaker to becoming an Olympic athlete… but that was only the beginning. At the 1936 Olympics he met Adolf Hitler, but he would later sign up to fight against him – and it was as a bombardier flying over the Pacific that he faced his greatest test. The plane crashed and those who survived were stuck in a dingy with little hope of surviving. As if starvation, sunstroke and sharks weren’t enough, there was the prospect of being rescued by the ‘wrong’ side and dying in a prisoner-of-war camp. Jolie kept thinking about the story and then read Laura Hillenbrand’s account of Zamperini’s life: Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. Then she had to work hard to convince the studio she was the right person to direct the US$60 million (Dhs220 million) movie.
‘This has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I had all these hours of phone calls and then I made all these boards. I took my glue and tape and pictures off the internet, I put all my boards in a garbage bag and I carried them to Universal myself. I put them out and I pitched [like crazy]!’ When she had signed up, she discovered that Zamperini actually lived in her neighbourhood and the pair became close friends. Earlier this year she spoke of how important it was to honour his story, ‘Such a huge responsibility to get it right, because I love him so much, and because he’s helped me so much in my life.’ (Zamperini passed away on July 2 aged 97. Jolie visited him in hospital to show him the film on her laptop).
This story of hope is somewhat in contrast to Pitt’s picture, Fury, in which he stars as a commander nicknamed ‘Wardaddy’, leading his Sherman tank into Nazi Germany in the dying days of the war. Directed by End Of Watch filmmaker David Ayer, it is an unsparing look at the brutality of war. ‘There was a very, very difficult side to the fighting. And the choices people would make were very difficult. That’s what the movie’s about, these hard choices,’ says Ayer. ‘It wasn’t black and white.’
For Pitt a big part of the appeal was working with Ayer, who has proved to be a singular voice with a wealth of life experience to make to his films (he was previously a submariner in the US Navy). ‘For me, the most important thing is who are you working with, who’s telling the story?’ says Pitt. ‘That is first and foremost. I believe David is bringing something new and original, and an authentic voice. It’s never more evident than in End Of Watch. And when Fury came up… I simply go by instinct. I recognised something in this – though I don’t know this world, there’s something very truthful about it, very raw, very original. And the voice is original. And when I get that feeling I pull the trigger.’
Audiences may be shocked by what they see the Allied soldiers do in Fury, but they should also appreciate the truth in it. And Fury could make a good double bill with Unbroken, which – for all its hardships – has a more hopeful journey to it, which was a big part of the appeal for Jolie. ‘For my children, I want to be able to say it can seem dark, hopeless and very overwhelming, but the resilience and the strength of the human spirit is an extraordinary thing.’
Fury is out this Thursday. Unbroken will open later this year.