No wonder The Great Raid sat on the shelf for more than two years. It's damaged goods, fit only to tumble out as part of the "change in management" Miramax fire sale.
The Great Raid is about a nearly forgotten corner of World War II history, a daring U.S. Army Rangers rescue of Bataan Death March survivors in the Philippines.
The largest surrender of U.S. forces ever had led to thousands interned in POW camps all over the Philippines - those who survived a barbaric march to the camps, a march their Japanese captors intended would kill them. With U.S. forces back in the islands and rescue imminent, the Japanese had taken to mass murder to get rid of the prisoners. Rangers were sent 30 miles behind enemy lines to save 500 Americans before the Japanese could kill them.
Benjamin Bratt is properly stoic as the commander of the force that takes on the job. James Franco is adequate as the brains of the mission, the planner. Joseph Fiennes suffers wanly as the emaciated, malarial commanding officer of the prisoners in the camp.
Much of this really happened. But director John Dahl (Joy Ride) and the screenwriters have conjured up a dreary, old-fashioned "last roundup" of war movie and prisoner-of-war movie cliches. Then there's Franco's callow and off-pitch voice-over narration.
Though the basic facts check out as accurate, the whole enterprise rings false. After all the Vietnam movies that were, in fact, shot in the Philippines, The Great Raid gives us a Philippines that looks nothing like the real thing.
A great story filled with real heroics deserves better than this. The only thing this vestige of the Miramax nameplate proves is that Miramax had no stomach for making a fairly conventional war movie, and neither did Dahl.
The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.
The Great Raid
Starring Benjamin Bratt, James Franco, Joseph Fiennes
Directed by John Dahl
Rated R (violence, brief language)
Released by Miramax
Time 125 minutes
SUN SCORE * 1/2 (1 1/2 STARS)