THE GREAT RAID (John Dahl, 2005)
In THE GREAT RAID it is 1945 and five hundred Allied prisoners of war are barely surviving their third year in a harsh Japanese camp in the Philippines. Lt. Colonel Henry Mucci, played by Benjamin Bratt, decides to lead the Sixth Ranger Battalion on a rescue mission of these men even though the operation has little to no strategic value. Joseph Fiennes is one of the POWs, and Connie Nielsen is a nurse who works with the underground to get needed medicine to the prisoners.
John Dahl’s solemn staging of the rescue mission will likely earn him points from military aficionados, but THE GREAT RAID is terminally dull. The period is lovingly recreated in detail. The battle scenes are well executed. The earnest, old-fashioned performances recall the combat films made during and after the Second World War. Dahl moves the chess pieces according to the rules, but he fails to give THE GREAT RAID a human connection. The three storylines never converge in a satisfying way, and no character garners much interest. Along with his brother Ralph, Joseph Fiennes has had ample opportunities to refine his acting of on-screen suffering. His sickly, stoic POW Major Gibson is what passes for a character of any depth; however, this comes with the huge miscalculation of adding a heaping dose of tragic, long distance romance between Gibson and Nielsen’s nurse. Whether their relationship is based in fact or not, the subplot feels like a cheap ploy to introduce a love story into a film where it is out of place. THE GREAT RAID may do an admirable job of honoring the story’s real men and women, but it’s a less than stimulating film.
(A shorter version of this review first aired on the August 16, 2005 NOW PLAYING)