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Film / The Great Raid

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A 2005 film, directed by John Dahl and starring Benjamin Bratt, James Franco, Connie Nielsen, and Joseph Fiennes, about the real-life rescue of World War II POWs by American Rangers from the notorious Japanese prison camp of Cabanatuan.

The film opens in September 1944, with the Pacific War turning against Japan's favor. Increasingly desperate, the Japanese Army high command issues an order to liquidate all of its Prisoner-Of-War camps in their occupied territories in the event that an American invasion is likely. We then cut to one of these camps in the Philippines, where American prisoners are herded into makeshift air-raid shelters and then executed by being lit on fire and being shot with machine-guns. The next scene takes place in January, 1945, in the wake of the successful landings by the US Army at Lingayen; Lt.Col. Henry Mucci and his 6th Ranger Battalion are tasked with rescuing American POWs held in Cabanatuan, before the Japanese can repeat what they did only a few months prior. The problem is that the Japanese have a strong garrison located in the towns near the camp in question, while the closest conventional American forces are still days away. With the help of Alamo Scouts and Filipino guerillas, the Rangers set out on their mission to liberate the POWs.

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Contains examples of:

  • Artistic Licence – History: In the actual event, the raiders had a P-61 Black Widow night fighter overfly the camp, with the pilot adjusting his fuel settings to make it sound like he was having engine trouble, before passing low over the ground and disappearing behind a hill as if he were crashing, in order to distract the camp guards long enough for the raiders to get into position. In the movie, however, a Lockheed PV Ventura plays the role as the distraction, performing various aerial stunts. The reason for this is because there were no P-61 fighters in airworthy status at the time, meaning a few liberties had to be taken.
  • Based on a True Story: The story is based on the real-life Raid at Cabanatuan, which took place in January 1945.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The raid is successfully pulled off but Major Gibson, the central character amongst the POWs, dies to complications of disease and torture shortly before it happens.
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  • Buzzing the Deck: Used as a way of distracting the guards while Allied forces got into position.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: A starving American prisoner is tied to a post, savagely beaten, and left to die in the tropical heat in the first ten minutes. Just a small taste of Truth in Television. In real life, the Imperial Japanese Army was much worse.
    • Margaret Utinsky's ordeal at the hands of the Kempeitei is heavily condensed and toned down. The real Utinsky was held for 32 days, beaten and gang-raped daily. On one day, five Filipino civilians were beheaded right in front of her. On another, an American POW was tied to the bars of her cell and beaten to death so violently that pieces of his flesh were lodged in her hair.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Despite being outnumbered, outgunned, and Trapped Behind Enemy Lines, the Rangers and Filipino guerillas manage to wipe out huge numbers of Japanese when the raid is finally pulled off, suffering minimal casualties in the process.
  • Determinator: The Japanese commanding officer of the POW camp goes to ridiculous lengths to inflict more casualties after his men are massacred.
  • Elites Are More Glamorous: Army Rangers and Army Alamo Scouts are the main US troops in charge with freeing the POWs.
  • For the Evulz: The Japanese issue an order that involves killing all Allied POWs in the event that Allied forces are close to capturing the camps they're held in, for no gain other than to spite the Americans.
  • Helmets Are Hardly Heroic: None of the Rangers, Alamo Scouts, or Guerillas are seen wearing helmets, only caps, or no hats at all. Justified, since wearing them would most probably give away their position to Japanese patrols.
  • Honor Before Reason: Again the Japanese POW camp commanding officer. He completely disregards personal safety after most his troops are killed to try to inflict casualties to the Rangers and prisoners.
  • Jungle Warfare: Averted with the Rangers, who engage the Japanese at the POW camp located in an open field. Played straight with the Filipino guerillas, who fight the Japanese in the thick vegetation just outside Cabanatuan.
  • Kick the Dog: Numerous. All of them are Truth in Television, as the Japanese in WWII weren't exactly known for sticking to the Geneva Convention.
  • La Résistance: The Filipino guerillas.
  • Ludicrous Gibs: When the raid kicks off, the Japanese soldier at the main gate is hit by so many rifles simultaneously that his entire upper body disintegrates. Some may roll their eyes, but it really did happen that way.
  • Noble Bigot: While he is undoubtedly a hero, Lt. Col. Mucci is still a man of his time and displays a vehement dislike against atheists at the end of his speech informing the men of their mission. Some of his comments toward Capt. Pajota and his Filipino guerrillas were also patronizing.
  • Oh, Crap!: When the Kempeitai military secret police move into the camp.
  • P.O.W. Camp: Yet another example of a Japanese camp where you don't want to be a camper.
  • Race Lift: The Catholic Monsignor in Manila who helped the Filipino resistance and sheltered Margaret Utinsky was actually German. He was strongly anti-fascist and vehemently opposed the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese. The screenwriters felt that the exposition of his background would be distracting, so they just made him Irish in the movie.
  • Ranger: The US Army's 6th Ranger battalion is tasked with leading the raid.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: It's implied that the Japanese Kempeitei sexually abused Margaret Utinsky while she was locked up. In real life, Utinsky was gang-raped dozens of times by interrogators and guards for over a month.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: The huge disparity in casualties led some critics to lambast the film as unrealistic, even though the very few American and Filipino casualties was exactly what happened in the real raid.
    • Some reviewers also criticized the Japanese atrocities for being too "over-the-top" in brutality, even racist, even though the the atrocities shown were much more toned down than what the Imperial Japanese military did in real life.
  • Secret Police: The Kempeitai, who utilize brutal torture and enforcement methods on enemy prisoners and suspected guerrillas alike.
  • Terrifying Rescuer: Many prisoners don't realize the Rangers are friendly because after being brutalized for so long, they're afraid it's another Japanese trick to get them "disciplined."
    • The US Army had changed its combat uniforms and much of its field gear by 1945. The Bataan survivors in the camp had never seen the current uniform, and thus didn't recognize the Rangers as Americans.
  • Trapped Behind Enemy Lines: The film takes place behind Japanese lines, where hundreds of American prisoners are threatened with execution, and their to-be rescuers are contending with having to sneak through 30 miles of enemy territory to get to them.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Averted. The actual raid goes pretty much as planned.
  • We Need a Distraction: An airplane is sent to overfly the camp to distract the guards, see Weapons Understudies.
  • Zerg Rush: After the bridge is partially damaged, the Japanese reinforcements try to rush across it to reach the POW camp and get massacred by the Filipino guerrilla fighters.
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