KANSAS CITY, Kan. — “The Great Raid.” The title threw me. I thought it was a western, maybe something about Jesse James or George Custer. Well, it’s not. What it is, however, is the best film I’ve seen so far this year.
Director John Dahl recreates the gritty reality-based story of one of the most spectacular rescue missions ever to take place in American history: the great raid on Cabanatuan, the daring exploit that would liberate more than 500 U.S. prisoners of war in the Philippines in 1945.
I know what you’re thinking. “A prisoner of war film. No, thanks.” But wait, this is one that cannot be dismissed. Yes, it is a war film and much time is spent in a concentration camp and, yes, it is difficult to view at times, but ultimately it is an incredible film-going experience.
First, it’s about something. So many films this year have focused on superheroes battling cartoonish villains and the storylines were as synthetic as the Bat-suit. "The Great Raid," on the other hand, concerns a moment in history that helped clarify the American spirit.
I passed on the first screening opportunity for this film, because, like many of you, I’ve had enough army and prisoner-of-war movies. I just wasn’t up for a 132-minute R-rated film that I feared would be more "Rambo" than reality. But the studio provided one more screening and I am extremely glad I attended.
It’s about so much more than rescue strategy or the agonies of POW existence. It’s about that indefinable something that spurs men and women on despite the high cost of their actions. There’s a meaningful love element as we get to know a soldier whose romantic feelings have stayed suppressed because the lady is married. There’s a religious element where we see men praying and speaking of the need for faith. There’s a sacrificial element as both men and women are seen putting others first, giving their lives for what they believe to be more important than themselves.
And there is a good versus evil element hard to come by in politically correct times. And it is this element I would like to address.
A few may question bringing up this incident from history when we are now allies to some extent with Japan. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that this film is anti-anybody. World War II was a defining moment in world history as it made clear that evil exists and that it can blind an entire nation. Yes, the Japanese did horrific things to the Chinese, to the Filipinos and to the Americans. But blind villainy has fallen upon many nations throughout history. Evil can befall any nation and must be guarded against or it will overcome any country that displaces God’s commandments.
This is great history, and certainly it should be shared with younger generations in order that the sacrifice not be forgotten. That said, the film is not just a history lesson. The filmmaker never forgets his main objective – to entertain. Completely enthralling, the characters are well-defined, the pacing engaging and the technical achievements are as good as you’ll find in any bigger-budgeted blockbuster.
More than once my eyes welled up, and during one extremely horrific scene, I literally burst into tears. Certainly, that is not something we look forward to when going to a movie. Movies are supposed to get us away from the tragedies of life, right? Wrong. Movies should make you feel. This one does.
The movie, which opens August 12, certainly is not appropriate for youth or children. Rated R, it contains three instances of irreverence toward God; several curse words are used; and eight or so times other indecent language or action takes place. Graphic violence and wartime atrocities are portrayed, but not exploitatively.
There is a great deal of thoughtful dialogue, including several special moments that reveal some men’s authentic faith and reverence for God.
No, this is not a “Rambo” movie, but the depiction of a real moment in history with appropriate narration about such things as the abuse of victims and the deaths of 15,000 during the Bataan Death March. Some of it is difficult to watch, but many adults will be moved by the power of the sacrifice by so many for the cause of freedom.
© 2005 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press. All rights reserved. Used with permission.