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Angelina Jolie’s ‘Unbroken’ Draws Gasps at Premiere in Australia

Promising “a night of inspiration,” dedicated “in loving memory” to pic’s subject Louis Zamperini, director-producer Angelina Jolie presented the world premiere of her second film as director, Universal’s “Unbroken,” to a packed State Theatre in downtown Sydney, Australia, Monday evening local time.

Reaction to the often-intense film was largely positive, with the black-tie audience gasping audibly at one particularly shocking maritime moment and the unrelenting visceral wartime brutality that punctuates Zamperini’s tale of survival.

Warm applause at the end of the film drowned out the opening bars of the Coldplay tune penned just for the closing credits.

Additional inspiration was provided by the presence and exposure provided to various charities, local war heroes and those who have overcome adversity.

Based on the international bestseller by Laura Hillenbrand (“Seabiscuit”), the 137-minute film is among the last high-profile Academy Award-eligible films to open Stateside (it’s slated for Dec. 25 in the U.S., but doesn’t bow in Oz until Jan. 15).

Unbroken” tells the harrowing but ultimately inspirational story of Zamperini, who parlayed a delinquent childhood in Torrance, California, to an appearance at the 1936 Berlin Olympics as a distance runner. During World War II, when his bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean, it signaled the beginning of a grueling ordeal at sea followed by years of crushing abuse in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps that he survived through sheer force of will.

Anticipation was high well before the curtain, as first Jolie and then husband Brad Pitt unhurriedly worked both sides of the Market Street red carpets set up for the event, furnishing selfies, autographs and handshakes to the thousands of fans and unwitting rush-hour crowds agog at the power couple’s presence in the middle of one of the congested city’s busiest thoroughfares.

Shot entirely in the Oz states of New South Wales and Queensland, the picture was funded to the tune of around US$20 million by Australian federal and state governments. Joel and Ethan Coen share screenplay credits with William Nicholson and Richard LaGravenese, and the film was photographed by long-time Coen brothers cinematographer Roger Deakins.

“Was there ever any doubt you’d premiere the film in Sydney?” one of the evening’s hosts asked Jolie in an interview piped from the street into the theater. “No, we were always coming here,” she replied to cheers. Jolie and Pitt spearheaded a local charm offensive when they holidayed with their six children on Queensland’s Gold Coast during the shoot last Christmas.

Later, during the mercifully brief intro (devoid of local politicians) that followed a brief making-of featurette, Jolie was joined on stage by producer Matthew Baer and actors Jack O’Connell and Miyavi Ishihara, who play Zamperini and his Japanese war camp commandant nemesis, nicknamed “the Bird,” respectively. “We’re very grateful,” she said, as the audience munched on salad, potato chips and quiche furnished in logo-stickered cardboard picnic boxes and washed down with champagne.

“Unbroken” begins a slow international rollout after its Christmas U.S. release.

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