August 12, 2005
“Great Raid” strikes patriotic note at time of war
By Claudia Parsons
NEW YORK (Reuters) - "The Great Raid" is an old-style World
War Two movie about U.S. Army Rangers rescuing prisoners of
war, but its makers caution it should not be seen as
"flag-waving" for America's military today.
Pitching a war film at a time when tens of thousands of
U.S. soldiers are at war in Iraq and Afghanistan invites
comparisons to the patriotic black-and-white war movies of the
1940s that tried to boost morale at home and on the front.
Most of the film is a long build-up to a dramatic assault
on a Japanese prison camp in the Philippines by 120 Army
Rangers, aided by Filipino resistance fighters.
The slow pace has been criticized by several reviewers.
"When people say this is an old-fashioned movie I see it as
a compliment," director John Dahl said in an interview before
Friday's release of the film, starring Benjamin Bratt of "Law
and Order" fame, as well as Joseph Fiennes and Connie Nielsen.
"When movies are released they have to feed into the
zeitgeist of the moment," Dahl said.
He says he first read the script for the film in August
2001, a few weeks before the September 11, 2001 attacks that
set America on a course for war in Afghanistan and then Iraq.
"I read it four years ago, it's pretty hard to figure out
what's going to be happening in four years," he said, adding
that production company Miramax's enthusiasm to make a World
War Two film was later fueled by post-September 11 patriotism.
Miramax is a unit of the Walt Disney Co.
Fiennes said that at a time of war, the film paid tribute
to the stoicism of the generation that fought World War Two.
"It's not about flag-waving," he said.
VJ DAY RELEASE
The movie, shot in 2002, is being released just before the
60th anniversary on August 14 of VJ Day, which marked the
Allied victory over Japan and the end of the war.
Based on a true story, it ends with documentary footage of
the Rangers and the men they saved from Cabanatuan camp.
Bratt plays the charismatic Lt. Colonel Henry Mucci who
commits his men to what appears to be a suicide mission,
sneaking 30 miles into enemy territory to assault a heavily
guarded camp and rescue more than 500 men.
A gaunt Fiennes, best known for "Shakespeare in Love,"
plays the senior officer among the POWs, who is weakened by
malaria and pining for an aid worker played by Nielsen, who has
been assisting the Filipino resistance.
Reviews have been mixed: "For all its noble intentions, its
striving for authenticity, its unblinking look at the savagery
of war, "The Great Raid" is far more dutiful than dramatic,"
the Wall Street Journal said in a review on Friday.
James Franco, who played alongside Tobey Maguire in
"Spider-Man," plays Captain Robert Prince, a studious officer
who plans and leads the raid. To prepare for the role, Franco
met the elderly veteran Prince, who lives in Seattle.
"What's amazing is that Robert Prince still really believes
that this mission was simply part of his duty and he almost
shrugs it off," Franco said.
Dahl said Prince was wary about having the story made into
a film, fearing he would be built up into a "big action hero."
"Most war movies have one superhero who manages to save the
world by the end of the film through all kinds of death-defying
stunts," Dahl said, adding that his film was different, with an
ensemble cast who work together like a real military unit.
"It's hard for a movie like this to compete with a
Hollywood version of a war film ... that's all-out action," he
said. "This movie has to kind of succeed or fail based on more
of the historical value that the film has."