Cinema Signal:

The Great Raid on Cabanatuan:
Rescuing the Doomed Ghosts of Bataan and Corregidor
by William B. Breuer

. "The Great Raid"

While the daring rescue of American soldiers from a World War II Japanese concentration camp after the Bataan Death March and before liberation was a great feat, this film bringing it to our attention isn't. Caught up in the real worthiness of the subject (the biggest rescue from enemy captivity in military history), a running time of over 2 hours unfortunately dissipates the explosiveness it might have had.

The year is 1945 and hundreds of U.S. prisoners of war are under the imminent threat of death by a Japanese army that has demonstrated subhuman treatment of its captives and Tokyo's "Kill All" policy. Without mercy or humanity, they execute every captive G.I. when their defeat by approaching allied forces becomes inevitable. In the Cabanatuan camp in the Philippines, Japanese commanders await similar orders while their 511 American captives bide their time.

Major Gibson (Joseph Fiennes, "Luther"), the highest ranking American officer, is suffering from the effects of malaria and from his separation from lover Margaret Uttinski (Connie Nielsen). As a Catholic-aid nurse in Manila, she's been active in the underground resistance and has managed to sneak Quinine to Gibson to keep him alive.

The assassination policy of the Japanese army is not unknown at 6th army headquarters stationed in Luzon, and Lieutenant Colonel Henry A. Mucci (Benjamin Bratt) has been assigned to penetrate enemy lines for a rescue attempt at Cabanatuan, a task that seems strategically impossible due to unhelpful terrain, deficient intel, and the enemy's superior numbers.

Mucci demonstrates great judgement in assigning Captain Robert Prince (James Franco) to plan and execute the mission. It's one that calls for a strategist with the gift of intellect and uncompromising leadership that Prince has demonstrated. He adamently refuses to start the operation until the blanks in intelligence, that could affect the outcome, are filled in.

Starting with a hand-picked team of 121 elite Rangers and Alamo Scouts, he hooks up with the small army of resistance fighters led by Captain Juan Pajota (Cesar Montano) whose intimate knowledge of the terrain and, even more importantly, the fighting characteristics of the Japanese, proves a decisive factor 30 miles into enemy territory.

When Margaret becomes part of a Japanese roundup and lands in a Manila jail (and in a smoky Asian detective pic), time begins to run out. Prince finally outlines his precision plan of attack to his officers and the assault on the camp begins. Director John Dahl attempts to recreate what should be unfailing natural drama from material in William B. Breuer's book, "The Great Raid on Cabanatuan: Rescuing the Doomed Ghosts of Bataan and Corregidor" and Hampton Sides' "Ghost Soldiers," but first-time screenwriters Carlo Bernard and Doug Miro seem to have tried to include all of it and make sure we get it. Halfway through you're about ready to surrender.

The attempt to humanize the field-and-barracks story with a feminine factor misfires. Even Connie Nielsen, one of the most underappreciated actresses on the planet ("Gladiator," "Demonlover"), couldn't provide enough magnetism for this distant relationship but, worse, Bratt and Fiennes don't even deserve their commissions. Bratt's lack of charismatic weight barely fills the uniform, though his effort is visible. Fiennes is cast when someone thinks they need a guy who can emote deeply. He fulfills the assignment by making it look difficult, with a manner as polished as military brass.

Details of the assault can be trusted to be historically accurate but, while such documentary faith may not earn big medals at the boxoffice, there's something here that will be of appeal to anyone with a fathom of interest in military strategy and in the performance of our troops at their best. Patriots with an ounce of fervor should be willing to pay double or see it twice just to help the Miramax honchos who finally took it out of a 3-year storage.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

Opinion Section
Comments from readers:
Fienes acting is superb!!!!!!!!!!wish he would be nominated for an oscar for this,he really deserves it!!!!!!!
                                                           ~~ Alexandra S. 
Well written
I've seen the movie and I disagree with the review
Site rating: 7 The fact that this "feminine" factor was unnecessary ignores the fact that this woman won the Presidential Medal of Freedom. While this part of the story is as implausable as the rest of the story it was never-the-less true and was not just a hollywood gimmick.
                                                           ~~ Joseph M. 
[Ed. note: The review states that the feminine factor was a misfire, but not that it was unnecessary. On the contrary, a link to an emotional element in the drama is highly desirable, and it's something the writers obviously recognized. They weren't, after all, writing a documentary. Somehow, though, despite the choice of such an outstanding actress playing such an extraordinary woman, that part of the screenplay is too artificially contrived to make the movie less like two different pictures. Don't confuse worthiness with dramatic effectiveness. ~~ FC] I've seen the movie and I disagree with the review

I thought the movie was great and would have included the deleted seens. The length of the movie was not noticed. The story line about Margaret was just as important to show the effort that went into saving these soldiers by the civilians as well.

                                                           ~~ Richard U. 

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James Franco and Benjamin Bratt
Planning and leading a daring POW rescue

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