The Great Raid (2005)

When I think of the grand epic war movie, modern examples include Saving Private Ryan, and Pearl Harbor. The Great Raid tries to fit in with this exclusive crowd, but falls short of this lofty benchmark.

The story to be told centers around a raid by the US Army Rangers during World War II. The goal was to liberate a prison camp of American GI’s that were captured by the Japanese when they invaded and occupied the Philippines. These five hundred soldiers in the camp were survivors of the infamous Batann Death March. The liberation of these American POW’s was the largest raid ever attempted, and the most successful ever in American military history. Certainly, with a background story like that, the film should have an epic plot, and at many points it does.

The Great Raid
starts off strong. In the opening scenes, vintage footage is shown of the era and some historical background is presented in a succint and informative fashion. After this powerful start, we end up with multiple thirty second scenes that keep changing locations to various places in the Philippines. This results in some confusion and fragmentation. After this settles down, we focus on the Rangers, led by a Lt. Colonel, ably played by Benjamin Bratt.

Just when we start getting the plot moving, we take an extended tour to Manila, showcasing a nurse played by Connie Francis, and the Filipino underground movement. While I’m sure most of this was based on fact, very little of this subplot ultimately ties in to the main plot of the raid. I feel that it is a distraction, and contributes to the slow feel of this 2:10 film. Sure, it tries to make the nurse a romantic interest of one of the prisoners, but it feels like this was artificially laid onto the plot to make this appeal to folks beyond history buffs. I think this film could have been edited down to a tighter and better movie, and ultimately reaching its potential.

The last hour is well done. Here we focus on the title of the film and show the great raid. They had expert military advisors, and had put the actors through a two week boot camp to make them look and feel less like actors and more like soldiers. What results is quite good, and the props all looked quite authentic. Unfortunately, it takes a little bit too long to get to this point.

The Great Raid is a story that should be told and not forgotten. The DVD includes a WW II timeline that features some interesting trivia, and a featurette on the boot camp that the actors went through. As long as we realize that this film is not in the same category as the great war epics, we can enjoy it for what it is- a decent story slowed down by a distraction. If you have enough time to devote to it, check it out.

Overall Grade: B

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