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While Hollywood has gone after the Nazis and the European campaign in
World War II over and over again, ad nauseam, little has been produced
depicting the Pacific Theatre or the thousands of Americans and others
who perished there.
In fact, only a handful of motion pictures have touched on the subject over the last two decades, namely Steven Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun," Terrance Malik's "The Thin Red Line," and the Nicolas Cage bomb, "Windtalkers." The best film in this genre was probably 1957's "Bridge On The River Kwai," which won Oscars for David Lean and Alex Guinness, among others, but that was almost 50 years ago.
Now John Dahl ("Rounders," "Joyride," the TV series "Tilt") has shed some light on a little-known rescue attempt in the waning days of the conflict in the Philippine Islands. "The Great Raid" is a fine little film, smart, patriotic and fairly historically accurate.
The film begins with a crisp narration (accompanied by actual film footage) of the quick successes of the Imperial Japanese Army in the days following Pearl Harbor. Gen. Douglas MacArthur - thanks to Roosevelt's decision to devote more to the European effort through the Lend-Lease to Churchill program - is forced to evacuate the Philippines and retreat to Australia.
Meanwhile, thousands of American troops are trapped by the swift-moving Japanese forces on the islands of Bataan and Corrigidor and are compelled to surrender. While WWII German brutality is everywhere in motion picture, few have addressed the stark horrors of the Bataan Death March. Even this movie skirts the terror with a simple voice-over in filling in the background story of a group of surviving prisoners held for over three years.
Receiving word of mass killing of American POWs by the Japanese, top brass in the Pacific orders a raid on a camp still behind enemy lines, led by Army Ranger Lt. Col. Mucci (Benjamin Bratt, "Law & Order) and Capt. Prince (James Franco, "Spiderman," "Spiderman 2").
Military minutia abounds with the planning and execution of the assault, which pits a handful of rangers against over 200 battle-hardened Japanese troops, led by sadistic Maj. Nagai (Motoki Kobiyashi).
The movie also shows the strong relationship between the Americans and Filipinos which was not the greatest in the years after the Spanish-American War, but was cemented against the common Nipponese enemy. Nice composition between rangers, prison camp and the occupied capital of Manilla, where civilian nurse Margaret Utinsky (Connie Nielson, "Gladiator," "One Hour Photo")is working with the Filipino underground resistance.
This is no "Saving Private Ryan," and the acting sometimes leaves a bit to be desired, but the strength of the story, the fact it was inspired by true events, and the historical importance of the film, make this one a must-see, even for casual fans of the genre. It will not make much money, but it was very important that it was made.
I knew almost nothing of this film before I saw it but based on a
couple comments I had heard, I went with my dad to see it tonight.
Some people commented on how slow the movie is during the beginning, and although that is true, it is there to give you time to develop a story and actual care about the characters. This is definitely not a movie for people with near zero attention spans from the MTV Generation.
This movie also doesn't rely on gimmicks such as CGI or what I call "shaky camera syndrome" where the filmmakers insist on making the audience nauseous by running around with handy-cams (ala Bourne Supremacy).
I really enjoyed the story and thought all the roles were well acted. The final raid scene is amazing. They did a really good job of explaining exactly what they wanted to do beforehand and when it actually happened, you understood where everyone was running to and what they were trying to accomplish.
Excellent movie, and highly recommended. Definitely one of the best movies so far of the year, I'm just sad that almost no one has heard about it and the movie has received so little promotion. I doubt this picture will even make $20 million here.
And one more thing, I thought it was a very tasteful and respectful thing to do at the end during the credits where they showed archival footage of the real soldiers being rescued.
This film expertly balances the need for authenticity with the need for compelling drama. It starts out great, slows slightly in the middle, and finishes off with the best filmed action sequence I have ever seen. The raid itself is choreographed and paced perfectly, so that the viewer understands exactly what is happening, why it is happening and who is doing it. Many aspects of this film have never been done before in a war movie. The craft is also expertly balanced - the film looks, sounds and feels accurate and not bounded by Hollywood conventions. Simply put, it will go down as one of the very best modern war films, among those who can tell when a film is exceptional.
Old fashioned movie with an ensemble cast instead of A list powered
star who uses the movie as a vehicle to command top dollar is rare
these days in Hollywood. That's why this movie worked. They assembled a
great cast of fine, top notched actors together from the USA and the
Philippines but no "superstar". They all portrayed their characters and
meshed out the story without any modern day politicking and criticism.
I don't know about you but that is truly refreshing in this day and age
I'd recommend this movie to anyone. Major criticisms seem to be that there's no deep complex characters and no protagonist. I think that is a positive for this movie because the POWs are the main characters themselves. The men and women just did what needed to be done for their countrymen and their country. There was deep motivation because someone had been scarred when they were 15 and thus acts this way. Most of the characters are real life people and you can't focus on one or two characters like in a fictional story that someone wrote.
It's too bad this movie won't do well at the office because it doesn't cater to the teens and their expendable income. The limited wide release also won't help it but I know for those who watch it they'll be touched. They'll know that there were and are sacrifices being made to ensure that the country they live in are safe and protected.
The Great Raid ----- August 12, 2005, a review by Teresita "Terry"
Berkeley, CA In the near-empty Shattuck Cinema, I gave myself the birthday gift of watching The Great Raid on opening night. This film, a chronicle of early 1945 events in The Philippines, has been highly anticipated in the U.S. Filipino Community, mostly by those of us who are fighting to achieve full equity for our Veteranos.
My mom, aunt and uncle joined me, as the initial documentary footage validated the historical scenes of war and resistance, as if you were there over 60 years ago. As expected, my mom made constant commentary throughout the film, as the scenes brought back, often frightening, memories. Anxiously, she recounted in soft whispers of her bout with malaria, which meant sure death, until her father decided she would not be left behind, as they ran every day to escape the Japanese. Like the film's prisoner of war, quinine was the saving prescription for my mom's malaria-stricken body.
The Great Raid is an army flick, similar to the scores I've seen in the past 50 years. Less melodramatic, though powerful in its interpretation of the human condition during war, the movie takes you into a POW camp where 500 detainees eke out survival under the Japanese flag. The acting was understated and reflected deep agony and despair without the flair of cinema-edged bravado. No John Waynes or Anthony Quinns in this version. The casting was done with a sense of nuance for each of the heroic personas.
The subplots were gripping. The valiant efforts of the underground that smuggled medicine to the ill and dying prisoners; the array of authority figures in the military who made heart-rending decisions about strategy and tactics; the rescue mission that galvanized a unit of 120 special rangers who had yet to see the extreme fires of combat; the unlikely relationships that bound survivors in their fate.
Some high points of the painful, two and a half- hour mendacity tensed you to the edge of your seat ----- the brutality of the Japanese, not withstanding the execution of ten prisoners for one escapee; the burning funeral of a hundred Filipinos, many of them women and children villagers, near the Cabanatuan Prison; the spectacular, surprise invasion of the Japanese camp; the courage of the Filipino Guerrilas and their exemplary warrior spirits led by Captain Pajota, as their steeled defense of a bridge held the Japanese and their tanks captive and effectively severed an avenue of retaliations to the explosions and attack in their war camp.
The sacrifices of the fighting forces to liberate the Philippines were stark and many. The younger generations, especially those of Filipino descent, are urged to see what their homeland heroes were made of. This long war was waged in face-to-face, hand-to-hand combat with bravery for duty and beyond.
I went to see this as a way of honoring my dad, a U.S. Army private, who survived WWII, found his war bride, and fathered his first-born. I have deep respect and admiration for those like my Pop, who still live to tell their stories, who today are still struggling for full recognition of shed blood, sweat, and tears, at a time where their homeland joined the world's battlefields.
WWII Filipino Veterans soldiers deserve Full Equity Now!
I feel that this is an important film for people to see regarding the little known but most impressive rescue attempt made during WWII. I went with some friends who enjoyed it very much also and considering that we were women going to see a war movie, we did not know what to expect. We were treated to a satisfying and moving entertainment experience and also learned new things about what the previous generation had to go through. We already know about the horrors of war and it was moving to see the heroic exploits undertaken by some very brave men to save their comrades from Japanese annihilation. There were good character developments as well as action sequences. THe newsreel and actual footage that bookends the film add to its impact as one can compare the actual characters with their counterparts in the film. History classes in schools should be taken to see the film.
This was a great film, and a nice escape to reality from all the
superhero, fantastical, and over-hyped movie star fare we've gotten
The biggest accolade I can offer this flick is that it sticks to history in ways rarely seen in Hollywood films, and even then it's not dry or boring, not inaccessible to those not particularly versed in history. It shows beautifully how exciting and thrilling real history can be. The liberties it takes aren't too offensive (I can't say much without spoiling the story, but although the "romance" in this film didn't exist, it's not particularly gratuitous or hard to believe, and there were many wartime romances between people who met in the occupied Philippines), but on a whole they valiantly stuck to the stories. It doesn't revel in clichés or surrender to the cheap thrill of pyrotechnics, which so many war films do. Since it looks to true events for inspiration, there's a happy lack of predictibility and "been there, done that". Not to say that there are any talk-of-the-summer plot twists, but it keeps you on your toes because you're dealing with life, and is often surprising. The film brings you down to the level of its characters, and it doesn't treat you like an outsider.
As a Filipino American and history buff, I was thrilled and proud to see so many Filipino actors in the film (particularly the wonderful -- and gorgeous -- Cesar Montano) and to finally see this little known but mammoth part of WWII recalled on such a public scale. The film takes place over 5 days in January, as the Rangers prepare to take the camp. Its three interconnected story lines -- the prisoners in Cabanatuan, the Rangers, and the underground movement in Manila (including a nurse played by Nielsen who smuggles in Quinine to prisoners) -- give a fairly accurate and well rounded portrait of the landscape of war in the Philippines, although by the end of the film you do feel as if you've only seen the tip of the iceberg.
The acting is lovely. There aren't any "Oscar" scenes or the like, just solid ensemble acting, and the leads, Benjamin Bratt, James Franco, Cesar Montano, and Connie Nielsen, are excellent for what they're given. The writing doesn't try to over-dramatise or "soapify" anything, it stays level headed and just plays. It felt a lot like a less ridiculous "Gettysburg" or a much tamer "Black Hawk Down" or a much MUCH shorter "The Longest Day". Surprisingly, for a war film, there are relatively few "what I'm here for" speeches, which is refreshing. The ones it does have aren't particularly irksome or obnoxious. It's not particularly violent (except for the unnerving opening scene -- a recreation of the Palawan massacre -- and one scene in the camp, I'd have given it a PG-13 rating), but it IS disturbing. And although they hardly began to show the full extent of the atrocities committed, the point is made clear, heartrendingly I might add. Two scenes, involving Filipino underground workers and another at the camp, had me in tears.
Honestly, this is NOT for people looking for a testosterone fueled action flick. The action is strictly historical (except for a hand to hand fight at the end which I doubt happened). At times it feels like a documentary, and other times it's like watching a memoir. Neither is this film the "rah rah" flag waving fest the advertising makes it out to be (thank goodness). In fact it pays great homage to the work of the Philippine people, underground resistance (a portion of the film which seemed a bit out of place in the film but which had me enamored and on edge), and guerilla fighters, all of which touched me deeply. As a Hollywood studio film goes, it's an academic, nearly blow by blow accounting of the events surrounding the raid on the Cabanatuan prison camp, but because of the nature of the story and not because of empty manipulation, it is intense, inspiring, and exciting. Don't expect the next "Paths of Glory" or "Bridge on the River Kwai" or that calibre of film-making, but I hope that this does well because in its own way it's different from so much of the mindnumbing junk that is out there, it attempts to portray a war story smartly, chose to tell a story that doesn't spell out big money, and without being overbearingly in-your-face patriotic, it pays homage to and shares the experiences of the American and Filipino men and women who endured the hell that was World War II in the Philippines.
THE GREAT RAID does everything right, on all levels, especially by framing itself with real footage from those times which, in some cases, features the actual events and participants. The acting is uniformly excellent, the pacing is flawless, and the historical context does not short-change any aspect of the story, be it cruelty and horror in war or bravery and nobility in suffering or even dignity and honor in combat. This is in many ways a movie made the way they used to make movies, but without the rah-rah patriotism or sneering social commentary. What it brings home simply by presenting the story in a straightforward manner is what we used to be capable of, what we once were and stood for, and what we fought against, and why. To be reminded of this is sobering, if not harrowing. Definitely one of the best movies my family and I have seen in a long time, it's recommended whole- heartedly for everyone. And Benjamin Bratt turns in a mature, restrained performance that marks him for great things on the big screen.
This is a beautifully executed movie about a little known part of WW2 It is beautifully filmed and tied to historical footage of the Battan Death March. The acting is excellent, particularly by James Franco, Robert Mammone and Connie Nielson. It was particularly interesting to see how important our ties to the Phillipine people were in helping us through WW2. For their underground efforts to help the American POW's, they suffered terribly. From the planning of this raid to the heroism displayed by the Rangers and their Phillipine counterparts kept us on the edge of our chairs. I have no idea how historically correct this is regarding how the Japanese treated prisoners of war, but it was not pretty. One of, if not the best treatments of WW2 by Hollywood. We saw it in a sneak preview after I heard a review of it on KNX radio in LA
Problems with this film:
1) Joseph Fiennes is supposed to be a great leader of men, the last bastion of American authority in a Japanese POW camp. But he's always sick, and the only guy he interacts with is his buddy. He writes his girlfriend that "my love for you is all that makes me strong, and that strength makes the men strong...", but he ignores everyone, and hardly ever gets out of bed!
2) The journey to the camp by the rescue team is drummed up as a glorious, seat-of-your-pants epic. And then suddenly they're just there, no problem. Actually, they set up a base half a mile from the camp and pore leisurely over maps, discussing their plan of attack.
3) The Japanese camp commandant becomes the Terminator at the end, darting out from underneath huts, smirking maniacally.
4) You keep hoping and praying you won't have to hear the letter Joseph Fiennes' girlfriend writes him. Then, at the end, the voice-over of the extraordinarily long, clichéd letter begins---and you realize that God doesn't exist.
5) Benjaminn Bratt as the hard-as-nails platoon leader. You wouldn't follow this man into a Baskin Robbins, let alone a Japanese POW camp.
6) Complete, entire lack of suspense.
Want a good war movie you may not have seen? Try Stanley Kubrick's "Paths of Glory". Leave this mulch-heap alone.
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