The idea that truth is stranger than fiction has been around a while. It’s been attributed to Shakespeare, Twain and some might even make the argument for Tom Clancy. We’re not here to debate the origins of this well-worn phrase, but it’s Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the world most famous detective Sherlock Holmes that says it best:
“Life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent…”
History’s The Real Story Of… is a revealing documentary series that tells the true stories behind some of Hollywood’s great movies.
Donnie Brasco is a 1997 American crime drama film directed by Mike Newell and starring Al Pacino and Johnny Depp. Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby, James Russo, and Anne Heche appeared in supporting roles.
The film is only very loosely based on the true story of Joseph Pistone (Depp), an FBI undercover agent who infiltrated the Bonanno crime family in New York City during the 1970s, under the alias Donnie Brasco, a.k.a. “The Jewel Man”. Brasco manoeuvres his way into the confidence of an aging hit-man, Lefty Ruggiero (Pacino), who vouches for him. As Donnie moves deeper into the Mafia, he realises that not only is he crossing the line between federal agent and criminal, but also leading his friend Lefty to an almost certain death. It’s an amazing story and a great film. Critically acclaimed and a box office success, Donnie Brasco was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
For all its commercial and critical success, the film only skims the surface of the real story of Agent Pistone’s infiltration of the Bonanno crime family and certainly understates the effect that this investigation had on the Mafia
Laura Hillenbrand’s biography Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption was adapted for the big screen, with a screenplay by Joel and Ethan Coen, Richard LaGravenese, and William Nicholson. Angelina Jolie, who befriended Zamperini before his death in 2014 at the age of 97, directed and co-produced the film, and Jack O’Connell stars as Zamperini.
Some have criticised Unbroken for being “watered-down” in its storytelling; the Hollywood Reporter noted that “the half-hour the film spends at sea simply can’t render the sheer, slow agony the book so effectively conveys.”
There are always going to be problems adapting books to movies and there certainly other issues in the adaptation of Hillenbrand’s book to the screen – despite the brilliant room of writers brought together by Jolie.
Unbroken tells the extraordinary of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner-turned-war-hero. Against nearly impossible odds, Zamperini managed to survive years of extreme deprivation and torture, first spending forty-seven days lost at sea after his plane crashed several hundred miles from Oahu, Hawaii, and then becoming a prisoner of war in Japan, where he was targeted by sadistic NCO Mutsuhiro “the Bird” Watanabe.
The story of Louis Zamperini is extraordinary. From his beginnings as a track star and his qualification for the 5000 metres at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, through to his service in the US Army Air Corps and ultimately his time as a prisoner of war. Angelina Jolie has made a very fine film in Unbroken, but what it doesn’t tell you much about is how Louis Zamperini adjusted to life after his horrific treatment as a prisoner and how he felt towards his captors and tormentors after the war.
The story of Unbroken is survival.
The Real Story of Louis Zamperini is something so much more powerful.
Munich is a 2005 historical drama film produced and directed by Steven Spielberg and written by Tony Kushner and Eric Roth. It is based in part on the book Vengeance by George Jonas and is an account of Operation: Wrath of God, the Israeli government’s secret retaliation after the Munich massacre at the 1972 Summer Olympics.
Munich received five Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing and Best Score.
Steven Spielberg’s Munich is not a documentary. Indeed, it is full of distortions and flights of fancy that would make any Israeli intelligence officer blush and possibly cringe.
Before the opening credits, Spielberg informs us that the movie was “inspired by real events” – which raises the question, where in Munich does fact end, and fiction begin?
The Real Story of: Munich endeavours to answer this question.
History’s The Real Story Of… blends dramatic reconstruction with expositional archival material of actual events, eyewitness testimony and documentary footage. The Real Story Of… carefully unpicks fact from fiction, meeting many of the people behind some truly extraordinary events to experience the real drama of the truth.