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Richard LaGravenese to Adapt Laura Hillenbrand's 'Unbroken'

The scribe is reteaming with his "Water for Elephants" director for the survival tale of Louis Zamperini.

Richard LaGravenese
Donna Ward/Getty Images

Universal has brought screenwriter Richard LaGravenese aboard to write the adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand's bestseller Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.

LaGravenese recently adapted the Sara Gruen novel Water for Elephants for director Francis Lawrence, who is also attached to direct Unbroken. Crazy Heart writer-director Scott Cooper was a potential candidate to write the script, but LaGravenese, Oscar-nominated for his 1991 screenplay The Fisher King, will be tackling the real-life story.

Unbroken details the astonishing survival tale of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic track star and Air Force pilot who was shot down over the Pacific, spent six weeks at sea on a raft and then years enduring torture as a Japanese POW.

A kid who liked to getting into street fights, Zamperini joined his school track team and earned a place on the 1936 U.S. Olympic team that competed in Berlin. While he didn’t win any medals, his performance caught the eye of Hitler, who wanted to meet the youth.

When America joined the war, Zamperini enlisted in the Air Force, becoming a bombardier. After several missions, his plane crashed in the ocean. He and another survivor endured 47 days adrift in treacherous waters before being rescued by the Japanese Navy. Zamperini was placed in a POW camp run by a sadist whose goal was to slowly break the man.

The camp was liberated and Zamperini freed by war’s end, but then he began to suffer decades of post-traumatic stress disorder. In the end, Zamperini was able to overcome his psychological pain with the help of his wife and evangelist Billy Graham.

Unbroken is Hillenbrand’s second book, after Seabiscuit, which Universal adapted into an Oscar contender in 2003.

The studio has long been trying to tell the story of Zamperini, first optioning his autobiography as a vehicle for Tony Curtis. In the past decade, Nicolas Cage tried to produce a version as a starring vehicle. With Hillenbrand’s tome on the best-seller charts, the time seems right for another run.

The CAA-repped LaGravenese is an A-list adaptation scribe, with Toni Morrison's Beloved, Nicholas Evans' The Horse Whisperer, Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess, Robert James Waller's The Bridges of Madison County and Cecelia Ahem's P.S. I Love You, which he also directed, among his produced work.