The Great Raid

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Nielsen as Utinsky, in the recreation of 1945 Manila, prior to its 80% destruction in one of WW2s most horrific battles.

THE GREAT RAID, from 2005, has a sturdy retro feel to it, hearkening back to the days when a World War Two movie didn’t need a message, just a mission.  This is a smart, sharp, no-nonsense job, telling (with only a bit of added fiction) the factual account the 1945 ‘Cabanatuan Raid’, in the Philippines, where a small force of U.S.Rangers and Filipino guerrillas rescued over 500 POWs from brutal Japanese captivity (and likely certain death:orders from Tokyo directed all prisoners to be killed before liberation—nice touch, bastards).

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The movie alternates between scenes in the camp, of the raid’s planning and execution, and of the daring work of nurse Margaret Utinsky, who smuggled medicine to the internees.  The action sequences are tense and the movie doesn’t shy–out of au courant p.c.— from showing some of the viciousness of the captors.  If anything, they still pulled punches—for example, the opening massacre-by-gasoline of prisoners on Palawan makes it look like there were dozens of victims when there were over 150, and the torture of Miss Utinsky, in real-life went on every day for 32 days.  But there’s only so much an audience can take (especially of the truth).

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Less fun on the receiving end.

Cast is refreshingly absent any posing: James Franco, Benjamin Bratt, Connie Nielsen, Joseph Fiennes, Sam Worthington. Directed by John Dahl. Poorly marketed, the $80m production was a huge loser at the box-office. Too bad, as it’s well worth a watch. Suggested read: “Ghost Soldiers”, by Hampton Sides.

Having spent a good deal of time in The Philippines, this reviewer can assure you that over there, memories of ‘the Japanese time’ die hard, with nearly a million of their families ghosts marking four years of ‘The Greater East-Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere’.

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