THE GREAT RAID
August 16, 2005
Rallying the Peeps
Directed by John Dahl (Red Rock West, The Last Seduction, Rounders, Joy Ride), The Great Raid is about the combined US/Filipino effort to liberate 500 American POWs from Japanese forces in the Phillippines in 1945. It's based on an actual historical event. It's shot in the Philippines and uses local Filipino actors. Given my family’s history - my late grandfather, Col. Andres P. Orquiola, was a decorated WWII veteran and founder of the Philippine Air Force - I felt compelled to see it and have spread the word to the other members of my family.
The title is a little misleading; the raid may be great, but The Great Raid not a great movie. Its first half drags quite a bit, splintered into three subplots involving a fictional American POW (Joseph Fiennes in a rare performance where I didn’t want him dead on sight), a real-life crusading nurse (Connie Nielsen) working with the Filipino underground against the Japanese, and the real-life Army Rangers (Benjamin Bratt, James Franco) who plotted and lead the raid to liberate the American POWs. It’s a long slog until the raid actually begins, then the movie gets good. Good, but not great.
The stuff that really stood out to me, besides the history of it, is that the Filipino actors totally blew the American and British actors away. They were far more charismatic and interesting, it’s kind of a shame the movie didn’t focus on them instead of the American characters. The Great Raid is not a "Hollywoodized" depiction of World War II and for once, it was nice to see a WWII movie that isn't about Europe, Hitler, Nazis or the Jews. If all you know about World War II is what you learned from Senor Spielbergo’s movies, it's as if there wasn't a Pacific theatre of World War II at all.
Soon after the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, the Japanese occupied the Philippines, General Douglas McArthur was forced to retreat to Australia (my grandfather was part of his entourage and escorted McArthur during the retreat) and a Filipino underground resistance comprised of both military and civilians rose up to oppose the Japanese. I thought it was a cool change of pace to see a WWII movie about the Pacific theatre in general and about Filipinos specfically for once. (I think the last major Hollywood release dealing with the Pacific theatre of World War II was Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line.) The Great Raid gives full credit to the Filipinos for their role in the raid the movie depicts and in fighting the Japanese during the war.
Something that amused me is that the Filipinos in the movie speak tagalog throughout, and sometimes they translate into English and other times they use subtitles. The funny part is that the subtitles at best overly simplified or at worst wrong. Like a woman will say, "That's all the money I have" in tagalog and the subtitle reads, "The money is coming tomorrow." What? That's not what that Pinoy said!
The closing credits run over actual newsreel footage from 1945 of the people and places depicted in the movie and that's fascinating to look at. Again, while not a great movie, there's a lot to appreciate about The Great Raid and you'll learn a little something about Filipino history. I've never been one to rah-rah about the Philippines, but I enjoyed this history lesson about the old homeland. Gave me a little bit of pride in my peeps.
Hell, when was the last time you saw a Hollywood movie where a) there are real Filipinos b) you hear them speak tagalog c) you see them fight a war and d) you see them win a war?