Tags: 'The | Great | Raid' | Stirring | Depiction | American | Heroism

'The Great Raid' - A Stirring Depiction of American Heroism

Tuesday, 09 August 2005 12:00 AM

The first half of the movie follows three intertwining stories that build up to the great raid. In the first storyline, Colonel Henry Mucci (Benjamin Bratt) and Captain Robert Prince (James Franco), stationed with American forces in the Philippines, are given the near-impossible mission of rescuing 511 American P.O.W.s from Camp Cabanatuan before they are executed by the Imperial Japanese. Army intelligence has brought them the news that as American forces have retaken the islands of the Philippines, the Japanese Imperial Army has been executing Allied P.O.W.s before the American army can reach them - and the P.O.W.s at Camp Cabanatuan are next.

In the second storyline, P.O.W.s within Camp Cabanatuan - led by Major Gibson (Joseph Fiennes) - struggle to stay alive despite the illness, torture, and starvation inflicted on them by the Imperial Japanese. A much needed light note in these camp sequences is Marton Csokas' performance as Captain Redding, a lively reprobate who cajoles and wheedles Major Gibson to stay hopeful - and stay alive. The filmmakers don't shy away from accurately depicting the war crimes committed by the Imperial Japanese: the American P.O.W.s are denied food and medicine, their Red Cross packets are withheld from them, they are tortured mercilessly, and prisoners are summarily executed without trial (one sequence, based on fact, shows 150 Americans in Palawan prison camp being herded into air-raid shelters, doused with gasoline, then burned alive). As he deals with the horror and inhumanity around him, the only things that give Major Gibson the will to live are his concern for his fellow P.O.W.s - and his love for a mysterious woman named Margaret.

In the third storyline, American Catholic nurse Margaret Utinsky (Connie Nielsen) risks her life to smuggle food and medicine to the American P.O.W.s in Camp Cabanatuan. Her own husband has died fighting the Japanese, and Margaret vows to stay on in occupied Manila and work with the Filipino Resistance. She is motivated not just by idealism, but also by personal attachment. Margaret is in love with Major Gibson, and by smuggling medicine into the camp she is also getting Gibson the anti-malarial medicine he needs to stay alive. Margaret is aided in her efforts by two Catholic priests and a group of ordinary Filipinos who acquire heroic dimensions in the course of making unimaginable sacrifices fighting the Japanese.

After the slow build-up of the first half of the film, the second half delivers a powerful and moving resolution. Colonel Mucci's disciplined leadership and Captain Powers' meticulous planning, with the crucial assistance of Filipino guerrillas, leads the Army Rangers to Camp Cabanatuan. The Great Raid itself is then carried out in a spectacular, perfectly-paced, suspenseful sequence. The action, the sound design, the music, and the special effects are all superb. Every prisoner is rescued, with only two army casualties, and the prison camp and its several hundred guards are completely destroyed.

The film's conclusion had me in tears. After three long years in captivity, the American P.O.W.s finally begin their journey home. As the long line of P.O.W.s is welcomed by their comrades into the American camp, an American flag waves over them - and an American plane flies overhead. The men all look up and cheer - in the sort of moment that used to be common in Hollywood movies, but is all too rare today. The film then ends with a moving montage of actual WWII footage of the rescued P.O.W.s. The historical Colonel Mucci had brought four cameramen along with him to record the raid, and it's wonderful to see the real P.O.W.s as they enter the camp, board their ships, and then sail back to San Francisco, where they are received with a tremendous heroes' welcome.

"The Great Raid" is a wonderful movie, and conservatives should support it. "The Great Raid" follows in the tradition of such classics as "Back to Bataan," "Objective Burma," and "Bridge on the River Kwai," and it's nice to see Hollywood attempting a movie with this sort of moral clarity today. Now if only Hollywood could have this same sort of moral clarity about the War on Terror. Stories of heroism and victory are going untold today about America's many successes in Iraq and Afghanistan - and I hope Hollywood doesn't wait sixty years to tell them. But until the film industry is able to honestly depict the current war we're in, a historical recreation like the "The Great Raid" will serve as a worthy substitute.


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The first half of the movie follows three intertwining stories that build up to the great raid.In the first storyline, Colonel Henry Mucci (Benjamin Bratt) and Captain Robert Prince (James Franco), stationed with American forces in the Philippines, are given the...
Tuesday, 09 August 2005 12:00 AM
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