Aug 152005

The Great Raid (2005)

Taking place during World War II, 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.

Directed by
John Dahl

Action, Drama, War

Benjamin Bratt, James Franco, Robert Mammone, Max Martini, James Carpinello, Mark Consuelos, Craig McLachlan, Freddie Joe Farnsworth, Laird Macintosh, Jeremy Callaghan, Scott McLean, Paolo Montalban, Clayne Crawford, Sam Worthington, Royston Innes

Lay and went to see this movie sort of a whim last night (Sunday). We were a bit tired from a fun weekend out of town with friends, but wanted to see this move.

The Great Raid is the true story of the greatest rescue mission ever attempted. It’s a story of heroes…those imprisoned and their rescuers. The US Army’s 6th Ranger Battalion, is given the task of saving 500 soldiers from probable death at the Japanese prison camp at Cabanatuan, the Philippines. These men the surviving remnants of 10,000, surrendered at Bataan three years before, were slated for murder by the Japanese. The film shows a forgotten aspect of the World War II while reminding us of the great evil that was the Japanese Empire.

This movie is modern classic and shows some of the real human tragedy that courageous men and woman had to endure. The acting is subtle and with a true to life feel while the facts of the story are irrefutable; the film is hard to watch at times. I have read some reviews that suggest that the movie was sluggish, wordy, and even boring-except for the shoot-em-up at the end. I am at a complete loss to explain this reaction except to suggest that they must have been at the snack bar or perhaps they suffer from an advanced case of Attention Deficit Disorder. Every part of this story is fantastic to the point of miraculous. If this wasn’t a true story anyone seeing this movie would dismiss it as being completely without credibility or hopelessly absurd propaganda. But it DID happen and to the director’s credit his almost reverental treatment of the story echoes the feelings, publicly recorded, by the U.S Army Rangers towards the captives they rescued.

The raiders, who include elements of the 6th Ranger Battalion, the Alamo Scouts and Filipino guerrillas, must penetrate 30 miles behind Japanese lines, assault the camp and return with the POWs to Allied territory. Benjamin Bratt plays ranger commander Lt. Col. Henry Mucci with grace, issuing orders with confidence and taking quiet pride in his men. To map out the raid, Mucci taps Capt. Robert Prince, a bookish young officer with a sharp mind, whose plan requires 121 rangers and Alamo Scouts.

But the Americans aren’t going alone; at their side are Filipino guerrillas led by Capt. Pajota (Cesar Montano, a Filipino star who was eager to show the part his people played in the mission) and Capt. Joson (Ebong Joson, playing his own grandfather). While Mucci at first underestimates the guerrillas, the Filipino force’s relationship with the local population and their years of combat behind enemy lines prove vital.

During their captivity, the POWs, many survivors of the Bataan campaign, which ended in the April 1942 “Death March, ” have been guarded by abusive Japanese soldiers but soon they pull out, leaving the POWs to the Japanese equivalent of the Gestapo. The POW leader is the malnourished, malarial Maj. Gibson, whose optimism buoys his fellow POWs and whose own spirits are kept alive by thoughts of his true love, Margaret Utinsky, to whom he has never expressed his feelings (at first because she was married to another officer, and now because he fears she doesn’t reciprocate his feelings).

The love story, a bit corny but not “Pearl Harbor” ridiculous, serves as the vehicle to show the array of forces working against the Japanese as Manila’s liberation approaches, and to highlight the extent of the Philippine Resistance. Utinsky has been working as a nurse in Manila and helping the Philippine resistance smuggle small quantities of medicine to the POWs. Plainclothes officers of the Secret Police know about the smuggling operation and pursue the perpetrators, showing no more regard for suspects’ lives than for the POWs.

As the rangers approach the prison camp, two problems loom: How to stop enemy tanks from reinforcing the Secret Police and how can malnourished POWs walk 30 miles to safety? Pajota answers both questions: His men will destroy a critical bridge and keep enemy reinforcements at bay, while the local population brings carabao-drawn carts to a village near the camp to serve as ambulances.

The allies reach their positions. The rangers begin their long crawl in daylight across open ground to approach the camp. The guerrillas rig the bridge for demolition and dig in to repulse the expected counterattack. The whole mission waits for one ranger to fire, signaling the assault.

That’s enough. I don’t want to spoil it for you. The action is brilliant, the combat sharp and rattling, and the film follows the historical record more closely than most Hollywood films. Not everyone makes it. As the saying goes, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. The most telling thing I can mention about the movie at the end of the film. During the credits the audience just sat there stunned. I wanted to applaud, but somehow it seemed trite. No, sitting in silent tribute while actual footage of the real prisoners was shown during the credits, seemed to be just the right thing to do, and the best way to humbly say a little prayer of gratitude…! A man sitting next to Lay was crying.

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  1. good movie, sadly the US is headed towards the same imperial attitude that Japan had. Thanks for recommending it.

    My trial is really taking so long, I mean I am an old man, the US govt should hurry…

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