Last Friday I had the opportunity to catch a screening of The Great Raid, about the liberation of a Japanese-controlled POW camp in the Philippines during World War II. (I'll have a more extensive review of the film when it comes out August 12.) But in the meantime, let me just say this is a movie you should not miss. Based on the books The Great Raid on Cabanatuan and Ghost Soldiers (the latter of which I reviewed), The Great Raid is one of those powerful reminders of human sacrifice and, in particular, the sacrifices made in the Pacific campaign. Americans and Europeans are very much used to films treating the Holocaust such as Schindler's List and Life is Beautiful, but are seemingly not as well acquainted with similar instances in the Far East. The Japanese still have a difficult time coping with atrocities such as in Nanking and the Bataan Death March in the Philippines.
The Great Raid does not flinch in its portrayal of horrific crimes committed by Japanese soldiers against both the innocent and Allied prisoners. In fact, I contemplated walking out after the first three minutes, which showed actual black and white footage of the death march. (Full disclosure: My father, who was just a boy during the war, was almost executed by the Japanese.) But luckily my emotions settled down and became downright numb after experiencing Connie Nielsen's acting job. There also seems to be a deficiency in character development--most likely because there are too many characters to cover. The music tends toward the overly dramatic and sweeping when silence could've been more effective.
On the plus side, James Franco has finally got himself a solid role and Filipino actors are given their due. Credit should also be given to the Japanese actors who no doubt made a courageous decision in accepting the roles of ruthless killers. And who knows if the film will ever be shown in Japan? (Thanks to its distributor, Miramax, the movie should get some good press stateside.) Unlike The Thin Red Line, there are no moral ambiguities here. It is quite clear the occupying power did some really bad things.
The Great Raid will help spread awareness of the valor of Americans and Filipinos alike and, again, remind us of that terrible price of freedom.
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