Saturday, February 28, 2015


"Nothing in our lives will ever be as important as this."

I watched THE GREAT RAID (2005) for the second time yesterday. I remember seeing this one in the theaters when it was first released and I revisited it thanks to a 99 cents DVD thrift store score.

The film tells the amazing true story of the raid on the Cabanatuan prisoner of war camp on the island of Luzon in the Philippines in January, 1945. 500 Americans were held prisoners by the Imperial Japanese for over three years. General Douglas MacArthur was leading American armed forces back into the Philippines in a campaign to liberate the country from the Japanese. The Japanese, who were willing to commit mass suicide rather than surrender to the Americans, plan to execute all of the prisoners before American troops can reach them.

With only a matter of days in which to act, a team of 120 U.S. Army Rangers, who had never before been in combat, was trained for a daring rescue mission behind enemy lines. These raw, green young men were tasked with traveling through the jungle for miles to reach the camp, which sat in the midst of a huge open field. The Rangers then had to belly crawl a mile to reach their objective. The Rangers were not alone in their efforts. They had the help of a band of Filipino guerrillas who were given the assignment of destroying a vital bridge near the camp.

All of the planning and execution of the raid is seen through the eyes of two main characters, Lt. Col. Henry Mucci (Benjamin Bratt) and Capt. Robert Prince (James Franco). Meanwhile, within the camp, Maj. Gibson (Joseph Fiennes) fights a desperate battle with malaria while the love of his life, Margaret Utinsky( Connie Nielsen) works with the Filipino  underground to get vitally needed food and medicine into the camp.

THE GREAT RAID is based on two books about the Raid on Cabanatuan, THE GREAT RAID ON CABANATUAN by William Breuer and GHOST SOLDIERS by Hampton Sides. I've got a copy of GHOST SOLDIERS on my WWII bookshelf but I have yet to read it. Maybe I'll get around to it sometime this year.

The film is capably directed by John Dahl, who made the brilliant neo-noir THE LAST SEDUCTION (1994). The movie features a voice-over narration by Franco and is bookended by actual b&w footage of WWII with the end sequence showing the liberated prisoners and images of the real Mucci, Prince and Utinsky. Incredibly enough, only two American soldiers were killed in the raid while only one of the prisoners died shortly after being freed. 

Peter Menzies Jr.'s cinematography uses a washed out color palette to good effect while Trevor Rabin's score is appropriately stirring and heroic. THE GREAT RAID pays a respectful tribute to the men, both prisoners and their liberators, who were part of the largest rescue ever staged in American military history. It's an incredible true story and the film is well made, earnest and sincere. I enjoyed it as much the second time around as I did when I first saw it. THE GREAT RAID didn't do well at the box office and received less than stellar reviews. I think it's an underrated WWII film that's well worth seeing. Recommended.

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