Friday, August 26, 2005

The Great Raid

By Reymundo Salao

It's not so often that a big Hollywood production company (Miramax Films) would work with a Filipino cast and crew to make a project about the World War 2 in the Philippines. In THE GREAT RAID, Cesar Montano, Ryan Eigenmann, and Noel Trinidad Jr., work with Benjamin Bratt, James Franco, and Joseph Fiennes to tell the true story of a daring rescue on the Cabanatuan POW Camp. Following the 1942 Bataan Death March, thousands of U.S. and Filipino soldiers were imprisoned by the Japanese in a POW camp in Cabantauan in the Philippines. Brutalized, starved, and tortured, the prisoners languished in the camp for nearly three years. But in January 1945, an American battalion, with the help of Filipino guerrillas, planned a daring mission--some called it suicide--to rescue the five hundred U.S. soldiers still alive there.

It was too bad that the release was horribly delayed for a year (Originally set for a US theatrical release in 2003 and then in 2004, the reason for it: Two massive waves of layoffs were sustained at the studio, and the Disney-Miramax split reached its height. The movie remained in the Miramax vaults unreleased during this time of uncertainty. When the Disney and Miramax divorce was finally completed, numerous films like this one under the Miramax and Dimension label were finally released theatrically.) and that the publicity for the film wasn't so built up much in the US, and that it was only on limited release (only on selected theaters), but despite that, it still managed to catch up on the Top 10 Hollywood Box-Office, ranking number 10 in the US Box-Office during its release (it is currently, at presstime, at number 14), a clear indication that despite its obstacles, it still remains a film in fighting form.

The film is directed by John Dahl, produced by arty Katz and Lawrence Bender. The story is based on two books, THE GREAT RAID: RESCUING THE DOOMED GHOSTS OF BATAAN AND CORREGIDOR by William B. Breuer and GHOST SOLDIERS: THE EPIC ACCOUNT OF WORLD WAR II'S GREATEST RESCUE MISSION by Hampton Sides. In addition, several men involved in the raid served as consultants on the project. The result is a thrilling, agonizing, and unforgettable war movie like they used to make in the 1940s and 1950s, a celebration of the human spirit. The introduction really set up the mood with real footages of the World War and a vivid narration that bridges us to be welcomed into the world at war. As the black & white colors up to indicate the start of the storyline of the film, we are treated to a very beautiful color combination of film that makes the events of the movie appear as if it was off a 1940's postcard, a great set-up for the mood of the period.

THE GREAT RAID is far different from the big historical films that have come out lately. It may not be as action-packed and all-out explosive as "Saving Private Ryan" or "Enemy At the Gates", but it certainly is far more sensible and more intelligent than the ridiculous, laced-with-too much-bullcrap love story film- of Jerry Bruckheimer's & Michael Bay's "Pearl Harbor" which never really gave a fair emphasis on history. While Bruckheimer & Bay's "Pearl Harbor" treated their film as a silly love story to please immature infanteen audiences with making historical events as a mere alibi-backdrop for said love story, "The Great Raid" is better off telling factual events, based on what is actually history, from the battle plans, to the sentiments of the people who lived and fought during those times of darkness. It has even more historical credibility than "Titanic". In addition, "The Great Raid" is also far better than "Thin Red Line" which horribly lacked the action and energy of what a war movie ought to be, suffering from the kind of editing that dragged the pace of the movie into an utter snoozefest. "The Great Raid", on the other hand, had a well-planned build-up when it comes to pace. It starts out slow with some wartime drama, then comes the tensions and suspense on the part of the Manila resistance trying to evade the watchful eyes of the Japanese Imperial Command, then as the story progresses, so does the excitement and the energy, until when the raid itself actually begins that the explosive fireworks of a fierce battle begins. When that starts, it feels like you want to grab a rifle yourself and join the raid.

One other thing that sets it apart from other war films is its emphasis on Military strategy. Not so many war movies these days give that kind of emphasis. It is so reminiscent of old war movies like "A Bridge Too Far" when war movies are not just done in a gung-ho Hollywood special-effects-driven manner. There is also a good chemistry between Pajota (the role played by our very own Cesar Montano) and (the role played by Benjamin Bratt) and the subtle-but-obvious tension that their characters have as they clash with racial mistrust; a subplot that lets Montano throw back this one memorable sarcastic line at the mistrust aimed at them, the guerillas. But it is the Joes who still are the featured heroes of the film; it is an American film anyway. But in the epilogue, there seems to be a failure of addressing and recognizing of the efforts of Filipino guerillas in the success of the raid. Which was kind of unfair anyway.

But of course, it is the relevance of the story to our own national history that gives us all a good reason to watch it. It reminded us of our history, and the times our grandparents went through, times of great darkness over the Philippine islands, and times of great honor, patriotism, and valiance. Highly factual, informative, and radiant with a breathtaking battle sequence; THE GREAT RAID is the War-movie event of the year.

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