Of all the daring rescue missions executed during World War II, few could have looked less promising on paper than the raid on a hellish Japanese POW camp in the heart of Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines. Camp Cabanatuan was the ultimate destination for many of the tens of thousands of U.S. troops and Philippine fighters who were trounced on Bataan peninsula in late March 1942, then forced to walk 60 miles to prison camps, a notorious ordeal later dubbed the Bataan Death March. Most of those who survived the march later fell victim to malaria, dysentery, malnutrition and physical abuse at the hands of their Japanese captors. But in January 1945, the men of the U.S. 6th Ranger Battalion attempted an audacious raid on a camp that was to all appearances impossible to storm in a surprise attack. Directed by John Dahl (THE LAST SEDUCTION, ROUNDERS) from Carlo Bernard's and Doug Miro's screenplay (based on Hampton Sides' Ghost Soldiers and William B. Breuer's superb The Great Raid on Cabanatuan, a minute-by-minute account of the mission), this is a creditable but disappointingly draggy war epic. It should sizzle like a fuse, but instead plods along with methodical deliberation. Inside Cabanatuan, we have Major Gibson (Joseph Fiennes), an American soldier who hasn't given up hope of rescue, but for whom time is running out; he's slowly dying of malaria. Outside, the granite-faced commander of the 6th Battalion, Lt. Col. Henry Mucci (Benjamin Bratt), handpicks young Captain Prince (James Franco) for hero duty; Prince will be the man responsible for rescuing all 510 U.S. prisoners. Dahl renders the appalling conditions within the Japanese death camps and the horrendous mass executions of U.S. soldiers with gruesome accuracy; in one of the most harrowing scenes, a Japanese camp commandant barricades a group of American soldiers in a foxhole, douses them with gasoline and burns them alive. But Dahl makes the mistake of also trying to tell the indirectly related story of Margaret Utinski (Connie Nielsen), an astonishingly courageous American war widow who posed as a Lithuanian nurse and helped smuggle medicine, supplies and information from Manila into camps such as Cabanatuan. Shifting back and forth between the camp and Utinski's operation in the Philippine capital is one shift too many, particularly when Utinski's story has little to do with the raid itself. Her story needs telling as well, but not here Margaret Utinski has earned a movie of her own.
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- Released: 2005
- Rating: R
- Review: Of all the daring rescue missions executed during World War II, few could have looked less promising on paper than the raid on a hellish Japanese POW camp in the heart of Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines. Camp Cabanatuan was the ultimate destin… (more)