Growing up as the son of a first generation Filipino American who served in the US Navy, I learned both US and Philippine political and military history. My father taught me to remember both his adopted country and native country's histories and the partnership between the two nations leading to ultimate victory in World War II. I was taught of the greatness of General Douglas MacArthur and his triumphant return to the Philippines during World War II. My parents told me stories of the occupation by Japan in the 1940's - my mother had to bow to the Japanese occupation forces as a sign of respect and my father hid underneath bunkers to hide from the Japanese soldiers invading his province. I anticipated the release of this movie not expecting a Platoon or Saving Private Ryan but the notion that history needs to be told about the greatest American rescue mission in history and the partnership of the US and Philippine "guerilla" troops.
The Great Raid stars Benjamin Bratt, Joseph Fiennes, James Franco, Connie Nielsen, and Cesar Montano. After the vicious Bataan Death march, there were American POW's left behind at Cabanatuan, who survived the ordeal. Many could barely walk and were stricken with illness, specifically malaria. Lt. Col. Henry Mucci (Bratt) leads the raid to rescue the POW's, but he leaves the planning to Capt. Bob Prince, played by Franco. Fiennes' character, POW Major Gibson is the fictional lover of Margaret Utinsky (Nielsen), a nurse who led the Filipino "Underground" helping to smuggle medicine to the POW's, specifically Maj. Gibson. Gibson is the ranking leader at the POW camp whose only hope is his reunion with Utinsky. The Filipino guerillas are led by Capt. Juan Pajota (Montano). It is through his leadership and expertise in the jungles of the Philippines that the partnership of the US and Filipino soldiers is solidified.
The movie focuses on two storylines: the raid and the love affair between Nurse Utinsky and Maj. Gibson. Some will see the movie as slow from the beginning up until the raid. However, the establishment of the soldiers' characters and relationships under Mucci, the Utinsky-Gibson long distance affair and the harsh treatment of the POW's by the Japanese occupying forces slows down the movie. I think, however, the movie is evenly paced. The movie's rock 'em sock 'em ending is well done but not overdone. John Dahl has directed a war movie reminiscent of an old Saturday afternoon World War II flick. He skillfully uses actual war footage to begin and end the movie. The audience stayed well past the credits. (Note: And in a big military town, the show was sold out with an audience comprised of military veterans and Filipino Americans.)