When the United States became embroiled in World War 2 in 1941, their initial attention was focused on Europe, a decision that allowed the ten thousand US soldiers – and the sixty thousand Filipino soldiers with them – to be overrun easily by the invading Japanese forces.
Over the years that ensued, these men were treated terribly, forced to march hundreds of painstaking miles where the sick or malnourished were slain and left on the path, with the survivors submitted to horrendous conditions and in humane treatment.
Then, as the tide of the war turned, the Japanese grew even less hospitable, the consensus being that allowing the POWs to be freed or worse still emancipated, was tantamount to strengthening the enemy forces. The Japanese decided that swift and decisive action needed to be taken, and as the enemy forces advanced, they commenced the slaughter of hundreds of POWs before giving the order to retreat.
With this knowledge, the Allies became fearful of the fate of the five hundred men imprisoned in Cabanatuan prisoner of war camp, as the continued advance of the US forces would surely lead to their death, a bitter pill after four years of captivity, with emancipation forces so very close.
And so a plan was hatched.
Lt Mucci (Benjamin Bratt) is the boss, the man charged with leading the small group of men charged with heading deep behind enemy lines to prevent the massacre. Captain Prince (James Franco) is the brain, the man with the plan who must devise a course of action that will not alert the enemy to their intent, thus giving them a chance to kill both the POWs and their would be saviours.
It all sounds compelling and laudable, however the actual film says like a TV movie, only based upon the names in TV shows these days The Great Raid has fewer stars…
The film plods along without flair or any feeling of danger. Sure a few prisoners appear within days of death from malnutrition (of course the reality of the time must have been horrific), but you never get the impression that this will even experience a hitch – in fact one of the ‘big moments’ occurs when Lt Mucci must swallow his pride and ask the Philippines’ forces for assistance.
Even once the action (finally) starts the film underwhelms, with a kill ratio of 35:1 in the US forces’ favour. Look, if this indeed is factual and that’s the way it really happened, then by all means bravo, but maybe that also means the wasn’t a film in the material?
Sure seems that way based upon the evidence on show here.
Final Rating – 6 / 10. We do need to be reminded of the atrocity and horror of war, it’s just that maybe this isn’t the film to do it.