Dahl's "The Great Raid" is a great story
that, alas, just doesn't translate well to screen.
Also, it's no surprise why the film did so poorly
at the box office, and was actually shelved for
years before finally seeing the light of day. As a
film, "The Great Raid" no longer fits
, where millions rush to see a fat, overweight
malcontent rant about the excesses of
, and young Americans believe the only cool thing
left anymore is to piss and moan about how awful
their country is, or has become. "The Great
Raid" is a story of hope, salvation, and
inspiration, and anyone under the age of 30,
especially those educated at liberal-minded
colleges, wouldn't be caught dead paying money to
see it. Which is unfortunate, because "The
Great Raid" is a terrific movie that deserves
to be seen and remembered, because it actually
Directed by former indie
darling John Dahl ("The Last
Seduction"), "The Great Raid" tells
the true story of the liberation of the Japanese
. A new, untested unit of Army Rangers, led by the
stout Lt. Colonel Mucci (Benjamin Bratt), and
captained by the stoic but tactically brilliant
Captain Prince (James Franco), are given the task
of rescuing over 500 American prisoners of war at
Cabanatuan. With Macarthur's forces quickly
pushing into the
, the Japanese have all but given up hope of
holding the island nation, and orders are given to
cleanse the camps. Mucci's men must reach
before those orders are executed.
At over two hours, "The
Great Raid" is frustrating in its gradual
narrative. Based on not one, but two non-fiction
books about the raid on
, the movie is devoid of war action until the last
act, when the raid itself is finally carried out.
Once the bullets fly, "The Great Raid"
is as exciting as war movies come, but before
then, there isn't much to keep one's attention.
Dahl and screenwriters Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro
attempts to keep things interesting by
intercutting between three different, but
connected plot threads.
The first follows Mucci and
his Rangers as they make steady progress behind
enemy lines, eventually joining up with the local
guerilla fighters, while the second mostly takes
place in the Philippine city of
, the hub of active underground resistance against
the Japanese occupation. Much of this is told
through the eyes of American Margaret Utinsky
(Connie Nielsen, "Gladiator"),
the wife of a former soldier who now works as a
nurse smuggling medicine into
. The third is set in
itself, where Major Gibson (Joseph Fiennes)
battles malaria and the prison's Japanese
commander in an attempt to keep his men's morale
high. The connection is that Mucci is trying to
, and Margaret, whose deceased husband used to be
Gibson's commanding officer, is trying to save
Gibson. It's not until the end that all three
The fact that "The Great
Raid" is based on
's most successful rescue mission in history makes
for good copy, but John Dahl, despite all his
skills as a director, can't quite pull the story
off as a movie.
Which doesn't mean the film is a failure, because
it's quite good in its own, deliberate way. It's
just that "The Great Raid" doesn't move
as much as it crawls, and there is never any real
sense of tension, or belief that Prince's
elaborate plan might not work. We know it'll work,
because the script has never given us any
indication that things might go fubar when we
least expect it. If anything, Dahl's insistence on
being faithful to history might have hindered the
film. Then again, there's something to be said for
being true to the source material, and Dahl is
certainly very true.
"The Great Raid"
has a good, solid cast, led by a pipe smoking
Benjamin Bratt and what should have been a
starring turn by James Franco, most known for his
role. Franco's Captain Prince is a serious young
man doing important work, and the deliberateness
with which he plans and breaks down the raid is
quite thrilling to follow. Joseph Fiennes gives an
equally good performance as the incarcerated Major
pining for Margaret, but refusing to admit it.
Marton Csokas, last seen badmouthing Muslims in
of Heaven", is refreshing as Captain
Redding, a man as loose with his mouth as he is
with his brain.
"The Great Raid"
should be seen, if just to understand the extent
the prisoners of
had to go through in order to simply survive.
Admittedly, the way the film is told does not make
for high drama, and for much of the film, one gets
the sneaking suspicion someone had replaced a
movie with an episode of the History Channel.
Nevertheless, you owe it to yourself to see this
movie, and remember what happened over 60 years
ago. What was happening at
and other Japanese POW camps during World War II
make Abu Ghraib look like
, and you should never, ever forget that.