Publicity Stills of "The Great Raid"
(Courtesy from GV)

Genre: War/Drama
Director: John Dahl
Starring: Benjamin Bratt, James Franco, Connie Nielsen, and Joseph Fiennes
RunTime: 2 hrs 12 mins
Released By: Golden Village
Rating: NC-16 (War Violence)

Release Date: 20 October 2005

Synopsis :

THE GREAT RAID is based on an actual rescue mission which took place during World War II, where 500 POW's have been entrapped in a camp for 3 years. Beginning to give up hope they will ever be rescued, a group of Rangers goes on a dangerous mission to try and save them.

Movie Review:

The film opens with a mixture of newsreels and re-enactments as a solemn narrator introduces the scenes. It’s a tidy way to set the tone; “The Great Raid” is not interested in huge blockbuster indulgences a la Michael Bay’s “Pearl Harbor”, it just wants to tell a story, and tell it like it is. Does it work? Sure. Will it be a hit? Probably not. Welcome to Hollywood.

“The Great Raid” is set in the Philippines, depicting a true account of a U.S. Army Rangers’ mission to rescue 500 American soldiers from a Japanese POW camp in Cabanatuan. It’s 1945 and the war is about to end; anxiety is rising on both sides as the Japanese slowly become apprehensive about victory and as the POWs grow desperate after three long years of imprisonment. The idea of the mission is as much to raid the camps before the American advance forces the Japanese to resort to slash-and-burn, as it is to prevent reckless and doomed attempts to escape on the POWs’ parts. More than 500 POWs were liberated at the cost of 800 Japanese casualties and less than 30 American and Filipino lives, making the raid as successful as it is dramatic.

Leading the raid are Lt. Colonel Henry Mucci (Benjamin Bratt) and Capt. Bob Prince (James Franco), both actual war heroes. Prince is the calm newbie to Mucci’s brass but capable top gun, and each is as competent as the other. On the other side of the fence is the emaciated Major Daniel Gibson (Joseph Fiennes), leader of the POWs. Fiennes is convincing and rending in portraying the fictional Major, and is the emotional core of the film. A little horrifying in his gauntness and a little unrecognizable, but that’s probably intended. One can only hope he’s had a burger or two since.

There’s an unlikely love story involving Daniel and a non-fictional American nurse named Margaret Utinsky that wasn’t too appealing at first, but on second thought, credit should be given to the writers for weaving this in without taking focus away from the main story. Yes, it’s slightly clichéd, but the mutual longing is essential for Daniel’s spiritual sustenance as well as Margaret’s strength in continuing with her underground resistance efforts. It’s a love story within a war story and not the other way round - a credible effort if anything.

The movie is effective in how we are informed of the Rangers’ exact plans before the raid. Many war movies, especially those involving complicated war strategies, often end up doing nothing more than confuse audiences on first viewing. “The Great Raid” presents us with a virtual checklist of the Rangers’ tasks; there is added satisfaction on our part in being able to tick off that checklist as the raid goes on and know precisely what’s going on.

“The Great Raid” doesn’t have the sophisticated style of “Black Hawk Down” or the easy charm of the 1963 classic “The Great Escape”, also about a WWII POW camp. Where it lacks in flair it makes up for with earnestness. Capt Prince mentions in his narration that the mission’s strategic significance falls far short of its moral implications. Same goes for the film; one gets the feeling that it was made regardless of the box office, it was simply a story that had to be told.

One of the nicest touches of this film is its recognition of the Filipino guerillas, who had as important a part in this mission as the Rangers did. Their intelligence support and the villagers’ collaboration are shown to have greatly enhanced the Rangers’ initial plans. In a scene where Mucci has no choice but to heed suggestions from Captain Juan Pajota, leader of the Filipino resistance, his perceived arrogance is dispelled as he gamely swallows the proverbial humble pie. There lies the film’s great message: this is what war is about, and how battles are won. That’s heroism.

Movie Rating:

(While lacking the gritty purpose of other more successful war movies, “The Great Raid” is a solid film in its own right, and one of the few that truly depicts the war in Asia.)

Review by Angeline Chui


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