A Rescue To Remember
One hundred and twenty brave American soldiers undertake the daring rescue of over 500 POWs held captive by the Japanese in The Great Raid, an exceptionally well-filmed movie recounting a true event from World War II. With meticulous attention to historical accuracy, director John Dahl offers an impressive tribute to a group of real-life heroes who deserve to be remembered.
Surprisingly, although we know how this movie will end, Dahl (Joy Ride) manages to keep us in suspense. The POWs at Cabanatuan are heavily guarded and there are 30,000 Japanese soldiers patrolling the Philippines. Adding to the difficulty of carrying out a successful raid, the Japanese VIPs have issued orders to kill the prisoners if it looks like they’re going to be rescued. Considering these dangerous conditions, how in the world can a secret rescue mission be accomplished -- and by only 120 men?
Not to worry. Lt. Colonel Mucci (Benjamin Bratt), in charge of the 6th Ranger Battalion, has assigned development of a plan to Captain Prince (James Franco), who turns out to be a brilliant military strategist. “I picked you because you’re flexible,” Mucci tells Prince. His reason pays off, and Prince even persuades the reluctant Mucci to accept help from the Filipino resistance army led by Pajota (Cesar Montano).
Unfortunately for viewers, the film takes too long to get to the actual raid. There are repetitive scenes showing how the POWs are suffering because of food and medical supplies being withheld from them. Major Gibson (Joseph Fiennes), the highest ranking POW is very ill -- but we don’t need so many shots of his illness. On the other hand, Major Redding (Marton Csokas), Gibson’s friend, should be focused on more. Csokas (pronounced Chokash), always fascinating to watch, endows Redding with an intriguing rebellious nature. Keep your eye on this charismatic New Zealand-born actor who previously played one of the most evil villains in the Xena TV series. He’s loaded with potential star power.
Part of this movie deals with the efforts of a dedicated nurse (Connie Nielsen), the woman Gibson loves, who risks her life to smuggle drugs to the prisoners. Nielsen makes a lovely woman in jeopardy, but this subplot of the film cries out for whole movie of its own. While watching it, I felt frustrated because even though I was interested in Nielsen’s plight, I wanted to get on with the raid.
When the raid finally begins, this movie comes alive. Like Tears of the Sun, most of the action takes place at night -- but, unlike that disappointing rescue film, The Great Raid makes sure that viewers can actually see what’s happening on screen. No movie scenes since those suspenseful underwater sequences in U-571 have set my heart pounding so fast as the awesome strategic rescue depicted here.
No matter how much I enjoyed this film, I feel compelled to mention one of the unavoidable problems with a movie containing gruesome torture scenes like those included in The Great Raid. Opening up old wounds can occur. For example, while leaving the multiplex, I heard one moviegoer say, “I’m ready to fight Japan again.”
Nevertheless, the story of the greatest military rescue operation in U.S. history needs to be told and remembered. The Great Raid serves as a worthy cinematic memorial to this incredible event.
The Miramax 2-Disc Collector’s Series DVD contains extensive bonus items. Viewers interested in behind-the-scenes info should enjoy hearing key actors comment on John Dahl’s directing style, such as Benjamin’s Bratt observation that he’s like a Zen master -- very calm while directing a movie with so many big, complicated sequences. I also enjoyed listening to Dahl’s comments on why he deleted so many scenes. His reluctance to cut some of the ones he liked gave way -- wisely, I think -- to improving the film's momentum or because they seemed “unrealistic.”
Included in this fine Collectors’s Edition are: the unrated director’s cut of The Great Raid; audio commentary by director John Dahl, producer Marty Katz, technical advisor Captain Dale Dye, editor Scott Chestnut, and author Hampton Sides; The Price of Freedom: Making The Great Raid; extended deleted scenes; The Ghosts of Bataan: A 60-Minute Documentary; The Veterans Remember; History Lesson with Hampton Sides; Captain Dale Dye’s Boot Camp; Boot Camp Outtakes; Mixing The Great Raid; War in the Pacific Interactive Timeline; and Dedication to the Soldiers of Bataan.
(Released by Buena Vista Home Entertainment. DVD director’s cut and bonus items unrated; theatrical version rated “R” for strong war violence and brief language.)