This dour, retrogressive WW II potboiler asks us to forget the last half-century of political and cultural tumult—to say nothing of combat movie tropes—in order to feel peachy about war again. Wearing its “based on a true story” imprimatur on its sleeve, the film follows a U.S. Army squadron on a mission in the Philippines to spring doomed Yanks from a Japanese P.O.W. camp. John Dahl is too careful a director to make this stuff dull: His methodical approach serves the movie’s thesis that group efforts, not individual heroics, win battles, and the titular raid is a real showstopper. But Philippines B-movie luminary Eddie Romero wrung greater complexity from similar material 40 years ago, and his movies never trafficked in risible Japanese stereotypes or ultra-expendable Filipino bit players.
The Great Raid is ultimately scotched by History Channel–worthy nostalgia. It fails to capture the timely insouciance of, say,
The Dirty Dozen or Kelly’s Heroes, war zone capers that dared to posit modern warfare as a playground for looters, homicidal maniacs, and morally vacant careerists. By comparison, Dahl’s film oozes Bush-era artistic timidity.