Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Benjamin Bratt, James Franco, Connie Nielsen, Cesar Montano

"The Most Daring Rescue Mission Of Our Time Is A Story That Has Never Been Told."

greatest rescue in US military history

I remember a few years ago when it was reported that Cesar Montano, who is a big action star here was to be part of this Hollywood movie. Every newspaper featured various articles about him. Everyone was making a big fuss about his first break into Hollywood. Then filming started in Australia because sadly due to the political turmoil in this country, it wasn't safe for production to be shot here. Soon enough, the film was all set for release but got postponed indefinitely till no one actually gave a damn anymore. It gathered dust in some studio in the US. Cesar Montano came back here. Promptly got stuck playing action hero roles in lousy local films. Or worse he faded into TV roles with sad oblivion. I think it was eventually shown here at the cinemas sometime late 2005 or was it early 2006, I forgot. I finally got to rent it from the video store this week and I'd say it was long overdue.
"The Great Raid" is a film that depict important events in our history which are long forgotten but definitely need to be told. It helps us better understand our democracy which we tend to take for granted nowadays.
The Philippines as a country has been through several years of Spanish colonial occupation, Japanese war atrocities then the American invasion under the guise of supposedly liberating us from the evil Japanese imperialist empire.

But anyways this film is about a rescue mission to save the American POWs who survived the brutal Bataan death march. There were about 150 - 200 American soldiers rotting in a Cabanatuan prison camp who have been waiting for 3 years to be rescued. News of the return of General Macarthur (who abandoned his troops to hie off to Australia) in Leyte made the Japanese forces desperate to pull out. They started killing most of their captured POWS in very sadistic and brutal manner. In a prison camp in Palawan, they ordered the prisoners into air raid shelters, dosed them with gasoline and set them on fire. Shooting the burning men who tried to escape out of the horrific inferno.

The beginning of the film was peppered with actual black and white footages of the events. The Bataan death march, the landing of McArthur in Leyte then it slowly fades into a sepia toned background to depict the story behind the rescue mission. We are introduced to the men who will lead the mission. It also focuses on some of the POWS at the camp and even inserted a subplot featuring some love story which I think was Hollywood's idea to sneak in a female character. Normally in war movies, women are just decorative pieces portrayed as nurses or wives back home waiting anxiously for their husbands.
The main core of the film though is the small band of rangers who will get to accomplish the greatest raid in US military history. Men driven not by glory for publicity sake but driven for glory within their heart and soul. Perhaps guided by the slogan ... "Leave no man behind".

This film is fraught with flaws no doubt about that. It is pretty obvious it was a low budget movie with no big name stars in the cast. Yet it succeeds in showing us an important event in history. It succeeds in its own unique way. There are some explosive scenes, nostalgic scenes of ancient Manila when it was still considered "The Pearl of the Orient", scenes of jungle warfare, scenes of dreadful prison camp conditions. All very simple yet still managing to convey the essence of war torn Philippines.
The mixed cast of American and Filipino actors blend well together. Benjamin Bratt and James Franco do well without drawing much histrionics and basically just portray brave soldiers who had a mission to fulfill. Joseph Fiennes though is pretty much just lying around as one of the prisoners afflicted with malaria. A pity since he could have done a lot more and his acting range was rather limited with this role. Oh of course as expected, Cesar Montano did pretty good as the leader of the underground guerilla Captain Juan Pajota.

It is a painful part of our history when the imperial Japanese forces treated the Filipinos with bestiality. It is something I have never forgotten till this day. Stories related to me by my father about the animalistic atrocities committed by the Japanese still haunt me and will do so forever.
So in that regard, I am glad that this film despite not raking in millions at the box office both locally and in the US was made to educate us and remind us to never take our freedom and democracy for granted.

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