As a young boy, Louie Zamperini is a major troublemaker in his hometown of Torrance, California. He steals food and runs away. Pete, his older brother, helps Louie by developing his love for running. Louie trains non-stop and breaks many records. He also makes it to the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936.
Unfortunately, his running career suddenly ends as World War 2 begins. Louie enlists in the air corps, and he becomes a bombardier. He and his crew bond through training and battles. Their plane, the Super Man, keeps them safe until their plane gets shot over five hundred times, but even then all survive.
The men are transferred to a less reliable plan, the Green Hornet, which ends up being shot down over the Pacific. Not only does most of the crew die, but the three that survive the crash, Louie, Phil, and Mac, are wounded and face a grave future. Phil feels guilty, Mac goes insane and eats all their calorie-filled chocolate, and Louie tries to survive. They all become creative, devising ways to get clean water and food. Working together, they repair their life raft after Japanese gunners shoot at them from their planes and fight off the circling sharks. Mac dies at sea.
Louie and Phil survive for forty-six days but get captured by the Japanese. They get sent from terrible POW camp to terrible POW camp. Louie survives, even though a sadistic guard nicknamed “the Bird” attacked Louie especially.
After the war is declared over, American planes drop food and other supplies to the camps. Back home, Louie reunites with his family, who have all worried themselves almost to death, and Louie marries Cynthia Applewhite. They have a daughter, but Louie is now an alcoholic and has flashbacks of the war. Louie can’t run or find a new career; he only wants to murder the Bird. When Cynthia files for divorce.
However, Billy Graham comes to town and starts some tent preaching sessions. Cynthia manages to convince him to at least come to one of his sessions. Louie flashes back to when he made a bargain with God on the raft, and Louie finds his faith, allowing him to leave his bad habits and find a new life.
Many years later, Louie forgives all who wronged him during WWII. When he hears that the Bird is still alive, Louie wants to go meet him and express his forgiveness. The Bird refuses, and Louie ends up sending him a letter. Finally, in 1998, Louie carries the Olympic torch past Naoetsu, one of the locations where he was once imprisoned, and we see his true forgiveness and “unbrokenness.”