THE GREAT RAID
**** (out of 5)
August 12, 2005
Benjamin Bratt as LT. COLONEL MUCCI
James Franco as CAPTAIN PRINCE
Connie Nielsen as MARGARET UTINSKY
Joseph Fiennes as MAJOR GIBSON
Directed by: John Dahl
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
“The Great Raid” has ridden a long and bumpy road. It was purchased by Miramax several years ago, and eventually was delayed for two years before the company had to purge its library. Back when it was made, it may have caught the wave of the “Saving Private Ryan” Hollywood bandwagon. It’s probably better for the film that it didn’t. The war movies that followed “Saving Private Ryan” didn’t do well. Does anyone really remember “Windtalkers” or “We Were Soldiers”?
“The Great Raid” is finally getting a chance to be seen in screens across the country, and it’s a good movie to see. It’s good for patriotism, and its good for morale for our military. “The Great Raid” tells the story of a rescue attempt on a Japanese-run POW camp in the Philippines. Five hundred American soldiers were being held for years, and they were dwindling in numbers. Before the Japanese could exterminate them, the Americans orchestrate a raid to rescue them.
Most of the movie is the build-up to the raid. It focuses on the lives and feelings of the soldiers – from those in the prison camp to those setting up the raid. At times, it tries to focus on too many characters. There are two soldiers in particular who have an interesting side story right before the raid, but this could have been left on the cutting room floor.
There’s also a side story of Margaret (Connie Neilsen), the lover of one of the soldiers dying in the POW camp. Neilsen does a fine job with the role, and taken on its own the story arc gives us a frightening look at the brutal tactics the Japanese used to root out those in the Resistance. However, it is superfluous to the overall story. And that’s a shame for Neilsen, who is a good actor who has been given some meaty roles in the past. It’s just that too often these roles don’t display her talents in the best way.
“The Great Raid” pulls no punches. When the raid actually starts, it becomes a great war film. This is the real reason to see the movie and be inspired by the events. Also, the filmmakers are to be commended for refusing to be overly politically correct in their portrayal of the Japanese commanders.
This is not a slight against our Japanese neighbors. It’s a realistic view of history. Talk to any POW from World War II (or any of the conflicts in eastern Asia), and you’ll learn that the Japanese command was not the nicest to our soldiers in captivity. Things were done in prison camps overseas in the past that make the problems at Abu Ghraib seem like a visit to the Four Seasons.
The Japanese commanders were not portrayed as evil necessarily. Culturally, they just had no respect for prisoners that had surrendered. And in some ways, they treated them like animals. After decades of uncontrolled political correctness, people forget that the Japanese – not just the Nazis – were reviled during World War II. It’s easy to hate the Nazis. There’s nothing politically correct about hating the Nazis. But after the attack on Pearl Harbor, there was no love for Imperial Japan in World War II.
It’s not the greatest war film to come down the pike. But it beats the heck out of that “Pearl Harbor” abortion by overblown director Michael Bay that tried to rewrite history to fit his beer commercial style.