Cesar Montano

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The Great Raid Review


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Sometimes you can have the best story a filmmaker could ask for, a giant pile of money and all the best intentions, only to end up with what is ultimately a sub-par piece of work. Such is the dilemma of John Dahl's much-delayed The Great Raid, a gorgeous-looking film about an impossibly dramatic and yet mostly-forgotten real-life World War II rescue mission, which has everything going for it and yet never quite makes it to the finish line.

The facts are these: In 1945, as the American army is pushing back the Japanese in the Philippines, Tokyo has issued an order to exterminate every prisoner of war, an order enthusiastically carried out in the beginning of the film, which recreates an episode in which 150 U.S. POWs were covered in gasoline and set on fire. The Americans know that as they advance, the Japanese will do the same thing at every camp they get close to, and that the American Sixth Army is only days away from the camp at Cabanatuan, with over 500 prisoners - a starving and miserable bunch who survived the Bataan Death March and three years of privation only to face murder just as their fellow soldiers approach. So a team of 121 soldiers, mostly inexperienced Rangers, are ordered to sneak 30 miles behind Japanese lines and liberate Cabanatuan. It's a jury-rigged, rag-tag sort of mission, with the soldiers knowing it's a suicide detail, but also knowing they couldn't stand not to try.

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