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Hirsen Reviews ‘The Great Raid'
August 8, 2005

By James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.
contributor to

"The Great Raid" is a cinematic celebration of the selfless valor that has always defined our nation's military.

The film recounts the true against-all-odds story of the most successful rescue mission in U.S. military history.

In an age where many in the media seem bent on impugning the armed services, it is refreshing to see a movie that elevates America's defenders, allowing audiences to stand up and cheer for those who sacrifice for our freedom.
The Miramax movie has a throwback quality reminiscent of some of the greats from the 1940s and '50s, with heroes who say little but whose actions speak volumes.

Lines between good and evil are clearly drawn, as they were during WWII in the struggle for our very survival.

The screenplay by Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro is based on two books, "The Great Raid on Cabanatuan" by William B. Breuer and "Ghost Soldiers" by Hampton Sides.

Planner and leader of the raid Captain Robert Prince (played by James Franco of "Spider Man" fame) narrates the story, which takes place the last five days of January 1945 in the Japanese-occupied Philippines.

Colonel Henry A. Mucci (played by Benjamin Bratt) leads the Alamo Scouts, the 6th Ranger Battalion, a group of extensively trained but unseasoned soldiers with the perilous assignment of rescuing 500 prisoners who are being held captive in the nefarious Cabanatuan POW camp.

The imprisoned men, survivors of the nightmarish Battaan Death March, thought that they had been abandoned and forgotten by their fellow countrymen.

Colonel Mucci meticulously plans each aspect of the arduous mission with the help of soft-spoken and cerebral Captain Prince. Together with a small group of Philippine resistance fighters they take on overwhelming odds, impervious to the specter of failure or death.

Using entertainment license, the writers insert a hope-inducing romance between widow of an American soldier Margaret Utinsky (played by Connie Nielsen) and commander of the POWs in Cabanatuan Major Gibson (played by Joseph Fiennes). The Utinsky subplot helps soften and pace the intense war story.

In what serves to emphasize the realism, director of photography Peter Menzies Jr. uses backlit shots. The cinematography and production are more restrained than the usual approach to this genre today. Gore is at a minimum and effects arrive primarily in the form of superb audio.

The climax of the film, the attack of Cabanatuan, is worth the cost of admission alone. It is one of the most exemplary depictions of military battle ever displayed on the screen. From the moment the first bullet hits a Japanese guard in a watchtower to the moving liberation of the beleaguered POWs, the footage is simply breathtaking.

During the closing credits, period footage of those involved in the actual raid is displayed in homage to them and their gallant mission.

At the screening that I attended, there was a man who appeared to be a Greatest Generation member, quite possibly a WWII veteran himself. He summed up the sentiments of fellow viewers, including myself.

At the finish of the film, as the credits rolled on, the unassuming gentleman made his way slowly toward the exit, eyes still fixed upon the screen. He paused at the doorway, gently lifted his hand to his brow and gave a heartfelt salute.

Reproduced with the permission of . All rights reserved

Copyright © 2005
James L. Hirsen, J.D., Ph.D.

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