Political Film Society - The Great Raid

PFS Film Review
The Great Raid


The Great RaidOn January 30, 1945, the largest rescue in American history occurred in the Philippines, where some 511 Americans were rescued by the 6th Ranger Battalion from a Japanese prisoner of war camp at Cabanatuan. The Great Raid, directed by John Dahl, provides a dramatization of that rescue, based on accounts contained in two books--The Great Raid on Cabanatuan: Rescuing the Doomed Ghosts of Bataan and Corregidor (1994) by William B. Breuer and Ghost Soldiers: The Forgotten Epic Story of World War II's Most Dramatic Mission (2001) by Hampton Sides, though most filming is in Australia, with the Manila scenes shot in Shanghai. The film contains several voiceovers by Captain Prince (played by James Franco), which supply historical background, and ends with a number of informational titles as well as film footage of some of the actual survivors of the camp. The general history of World War II in the Pacific is well known to those who lived through the era, but the rescue has never received appropriate accolades, possibly because the brutality of the Japanese quickly went off the radar when Washington needed Tokyo's cooperation to fight the Cold War so soon after the end of the war. The film's tagline is "The Most Daring Rescue Mission Of Our Time Is A Story That Has Never Been Told." Voiceovers at the beginning of The Great Raid note that the Philippines was under Japanese attack ten hours after Pearl Harbor was bombed. Some 60,000 American military personnel were abandoned on the Bataan Peninsula, America's worst military defeat, while General Douglas MacArthur retreated to Australia. After holding out valiantly against the Japanese, ammunition ran out, and the American army in the Philippines surrendered. According to the bushido code, soldiers who are defeated are supposed to commit suicide, so the Japanese military was unprepared not only to accommodate such a large number of prisoners but also to accord them rights under the Geneva Conventions. Japanese military officers ordered the surrendered Americans to march from Bataan toward makeshift POW camps, but those who faltered were shot dead or allowed to die in what has become known as the Bataan Death March. At one POW camp, as depicted in the film, Americans were ordered into underground bunkers and then burned alive. Cabanatuan was perhaps the most humanely run, but prisoners were forced grow crops for Japanese soldiers while denied access to Red Cross food shipments; medicines were scarce, and prisoners gradually died, either through disease, starvation, or by being tortured to death for infractions of the rules. Ten Americans were executed for every one who tried to escape the compound. There are several personal stories throughout the film to ensure dramatic interest. Prince, a Stanford student who joined the army to fight in the war, mastered military strategy, and is the mastermind behind the successful raid by a well-trained but untested unit. The commander of the raid is Colonel Mucci (played by Benjamin Bratt), who in turn relies on members of a Filipino guerrilla force. There is also a love story, involving an American nurse, Margaret Utinksy (played by Connie Nielsen), who sneaks quinine through intermediaries in the Filipino underground to her boyfriend, Major Gibson (played by Ralph Fiennes), who is wasting away with malaria. In part, the plot resembles a "Saving Major Gibson," but the rescue is a complex operation, for which many deserve medals for heroism. Japanese human rights violations, including the torture of Margaret, may shock many filmviewers at a time when the American military seems determined to treat suspected terrorists in a manner that appears to violate the Geneva Conventions. Accordingly, the Political Film Society has nominated The Great Raid as best film of 2005 on human rights. MH

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The Great Raid : Rescuing the Doomed Ghosts of Bataan and Corregido
William B. Breuer

On the morning of January 28, 1945, a small band of Army Rangers set out on an audacious and daring rescue effort: to penetrate 30 miles into Japanese controlled territory, storm the camp, and escape with the POWs, carrying them if necessary.

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Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II's Greatest Rescue Mission
by Hampton Sides

“Riveting and patriotically stirring without ever slipping into mawkishness or sentimentality.” —The New York Times