The Great Raid
Review By: Christian Ghigliotty
Even before the unforgettable events of September 11th, Hollywood has had an obsession with America at war. It is however, important to point out that the post-Sept 11th era has spawned countless films examining lives of soldiers in combat. Whether they were of the “Saving Private Ryan” echelon is hardly debatable, seeing as Black Hawk Down was the only one to make any waves in a sea of manufactured byproducts of the self proclaimed ‘War on Terror’, but the message behind them was clear—shroud the battered and torn American pride in a 35mm blanket of patriotism. The onslaught of combat movies has calmed somewhat, but it appears that as long we have soldiers occupying Iraq, there will be a lingering drunkenness that will have Hollywood brass stumbling and bumbling toward something that had the same profound affect that the aforementioned Steven Spielberg epic exuberated. Enter The Great Raid, Saving Private Ryan’s seemingly younger brother not only in star power but in scale; and despite our infatuation with epics and their grandiose appeal its important to note, as history has proven, anything large or epic only guarantees one thing—a setup for an even bigger fall.
Based on acclaimed military historian William B. Breuer’ s book The Great Raid on Cabanatuan and Hampton Sides’ Ghost Stories, the John Dahl directed film details the most successful American rescue mission in its history. Three years after the departure of General MacArthur, he returns to the Philippines and initiates a hot pursuit for the Japanese after they detain remaining soldiers from the infamous Battan Death Marches. With a “Kill All Policy” handed down from the Japanese War Ministry, the Imperial Army is given orders to liquidate all camps. Liquidation comes in the form of incineration, as the outset of the film has one hundred and fifty U.S. soldiers forced into air raid shelters in a prison camp at Palawan and burned alive. The searing flesh and bone that eventually becomes dissipating smoke is symbolic of the hope of many of the 500 POW’s that would eventually tag themselves as “ghost soldiers”.
Amongst the surviving POW’s is Major Gibson (a Machinist-thin Joseph Fiennes), horribly weakened by malaria. He acts as both leader and voice of the prisoners, despite carrying a heap of despondency via-a-vis his country. The only thing keeping him on the threshold of sanity is his love for Margaret (Connie Nielsen), a sweeping blonde nurse who has been aiding American soldiers through the Filipino underground. In nearby Luzon, the 6th Ranger Battalion, led by a tough yet stubborn Lieutenant Colonel Henry A. Mucci (a surprisingly strong