The Great Raid (2005) / War-Action
MPAA Rated: R for violence and language
Running Time: 132 min.
Cast: Joseph Fiennes, James Franco, Benjamin Bratt, Connie Nielsen, Marton Csokas, Robert Mammone, Max Martini, Natalie Mendoza
Director: John Dahl
Screenplay: Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro (based on the book, "The Great Raid on Cabanatuan" by William B. Breauer, with additional material taken from, "Ghost Soldiers" by Hampton Sides)
Review published December 22, 2005
The Great Raid is a heroic, patriotic World War II movie that's easy to watch and understand, although in the end, it is deflated somewhat by these populist leanings. It takes place during a five-day stretch in the Philippines, where the Japanese have had their occupation threatened by the U.S. forces headed into the area. The Japanese have POW camps full of surrendered American soldiers, although the prisoners aren't treated very well, and will most likely be killed by the Japanese rather than rescued. As the Japanese consider it a disgrace to surrender, they view these men as the lowest of the low, and have orders to kill them all before vacating the area. Knowing this, the US forces deploy an elite force of Rangers in to try to rescue the men before they become casualties, although the Japanese have recently beefed up the guard in the area, making small unit's plans shift constantly in order to minimize the potential dangers.
I suppose it wouldn't be spoiling the film to say that this is a feel-good movie for most American viewers, with an old-fashioned outlook befitting the type of noble effort that World War II provides. The rescue mission would go on to be the most successful in U.S. history, and while most WWII films showcase the struggle in Europe, it is a refreshingly different peek into the war that most of us haven't been privy to see.
Although the action and drama are engaging, this is a movie that has an abundance of Hollywood contrivances that does keep it from gaining a vaunted status that movies like Saving Private Ryan and the "Band of Brothers" television series have garnered in recent years. The acting is workable, but not spectacular, the drama is gripping without becoming emotional, and the action is competent without being thrilling. In short, it's a respectable effort that just falls short of being a must-see movie, even among war movie buffs.
The Great Raid maintains an entertainment level that makes it worthwhile, even for viewers that normally avoid such fare. It is violent, but not overly gratuitous, and there is a story of love and intrigue thrown in for good measure, although this is perhaps the least convincing aspects of the film to swallow. It may not go down as one of the year's best films, but if it does anything well, it does play on your patriotic heartstrings with finesse. While good intentions don't always equate to a good movie, The Great Raid almost defies that notion by making you cheer for the soldiers and their plight, despite being knowingly manipulated by formula Hollywood claptrap.
©2005 Vince Leo