The Great Raid

The Great Raid is solid value – an honest, well-crafted, engrossing story. What can an obscure World War II episode offer six decades after the fact? A great deal when it’s done as well as it is here.

John Dahl – a director of TV series and of such forgettable movies as the 1996 Unforgettable – opens The Great Raid with a brief, straightforward documentary narration to set the stage. Three years after the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in 1942, Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s hasty departure for Australia, the capture of thousands of U.S. and Filipino troops, and the Bataan death march, there were still some survivors in concentration camps, slowly starved and worked to death.

In 1945, as U.S. Army troops and Filipino resistance forces started to take back the islands, the Japanese War Ministry issued a "kill all" order, stepping up execution of the POWs and destroying evidence of their atrocities before the arrival of Allied forces. In Palawan Camp, for example, American prisoners were forced into a trench, doused with gasoline, and set on fire. And that’s where the story of Cabanatuan camp begins, a true, heroic adventure of a 120-member Ranger company infiltrating enemy territory to liberate some 500 American prisoners, who were in a state similar to what’s familiar from pictures of Auschwitz survivors.

Dahl’s tight, unaffected direction, Peter Menzies’s brilliant cinematography, and a fine cast led by Joseph Fiennes, Benjamin Bratt and James Franco, engage and hold attention throughout. Scenes in wartime Manila seem a bit staged, but depiction of the Ranger mission rings true, both dramatically and visually..

– Janos Gereben