Francis Lawrence is in talks to direct Universal Pictures' adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand's best-selling book "Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption," the studio has confirmed to TheWrap.
Exhaustively researched over seven years by Hillenbrand, "Unbroken" tells the harrowing true story of Louis Zamperini, a former Olympic track prodigy who endured unimaginable hardships as a POW during WWII.
Known as the 'Torrance Tornado,' Zamperini was a gifted runner who became the youngest American to compete on the U.S. team when he ran in the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games. Though Zamperini didn't win a medal, he ran the final lap so fast that Adolf Hitler asked to meet him.
When WWII broke out, Zamperini was an Air Force bombardier who ended up crashing in the Pacific during a rescue mission. He spent 47 days floating on a raft with two other crew-mates and survived hunger, thirst and several shark attacks.
Zamperini was eventually captured by the Japanese Navy and dispatched to a place called Execution Island where guards routinely beheaded prisoners. His Olympic feats earned him a brief reprieve but when he refused to read anti-American propaganda statements on the radio, he was beaten, tortured and subjected to medical experiments overseen by a sadistic officer named Mutsuhiro "The Bird" Watanabe.
Zamperini survived the war but was haunted by nightmares of the abuse he suffered at the cruel hands of The Bird. Eventually, Zamperini met preacher Billy Graham who suggested he would find relief if he forgave his captors. Zamperini returned to Japan and forgave most of the guards in person, but The Bird refused to meet him. He died in 2003, while Zamperini is still alive and kicking at 93.
Hillenbrand's deal is said to be worth 7-figures if the movie gets made, which would be no small feat considering Hollywood has been trying to tell Zamperini's story for more than 50 years.
While Universal recently acquired the film rights to Hillenbrand's new book, the studio bought Zamperini's life rights and his memoir, "Devil at My Heels," back in 1957, when Tony Curtis expressed interest in playing him after wrapping Stanley Kubrick's "Spartacus." The long-gestating project remained dormant until 1998, when Zamperini carried the Olympic torch at the Nagano Olympics, prompting Nicolas Cage to attach himself to an Antonie Fuqua-directed film titled "Iron Man," oddly enough.'
Hillenbrand's book has given Zamperini's story a second wind, and Universal had success with its adaptation of the author's "Seabiscuit: An American Legend." The studio reportedly wants "Crazy Heart" writer-director Scott Cooper to adapt "Unbroken."
Lawrence's manager, Erwin Stoff of 3 Arts Entertainment, is in talks to produce alongside Matt Baer, while Mick Garris will exec produce and Universal's Peter Cramer will oversee the project for the studio.
Lawrence previously directed "Constantine" and "I Am Legend," and recently completed the big screen adaptation of Sara Gruen's novel "Water for Elephants" for Fox 2000.
CAA represents Lawrence, Hillenbrand, Garris and Zemperini.
News of the Universal project was first reported by Deadline.