The Great Raid is a misfire from the once promising director John Dahl (Red Rock West, The Last Seduction).It tells the tale of the single largest rescue mission of World War II, during which some 500 American POWs, imprisoned in a hellish Japanese labor camp in the Philippines after the fall of Bataan, were more or less written off as acceptable losses by the Washington hawks. It's a riveting story, but Dahl has crafted what may be the single dullest war film of the past decade.
Despite the obvious title similarities, this is a far cry from John Sturges' The Great Escape.In place of the supercool Steve McQueen, we get Benjamin Bratt as the officer tagged to head up the mission. For some reason, Bratt equates the constant puffing out of his chest with rough-and-tumble leadership. On the contrary, it makes him look more like a swaggering gamecock strutting around in search of something to peck at.
On the other side of the razor wire are the American prisoners, wondering if their leaders have forgotten their plight. Major Gibson (Joseph Fiennes) suffers not only from a ghastly bout of malaria but also an entirely unnecessary subplot involving the girl he left behind: an unflappable nurse and resistance fighter (Connie Nielsen) who risks her life to provide the beleaguered POWs with black-market quinine to stave off the malarial sweats that threaten to wipe them out before the Japanese can execute them.
There are the makings of a fine, moving, epic war film here, but thanks to the chatty exposition and some silly casting choices, The Great Raid is anything but. It slogs along from forward command post to jungle crawl without a single memorable crowd-pleasing battle sequence.