On those rare occasions when I go to a movie, the experience reminds me why I rarely go to movies anymore.
I just don't find them good enough to justify the modest amount of time they take to watch. I've seen maybe three or four movies in the last couple of years, and the only one I really thought worth the time was "March of the Penguins."
And that was a documentary, which hardly qualifies as the typical movie-going experience.
Nonetheless, this past weekend I went to see "The Great Raid," and it should have been a great movie. But it was just average [–] at best.
I can't really recommend it, although I'm glad I saw because if I hadn't seen it I'd have been wondering whether it was any good.
"The Great Raid" is the story of the most successful rescue mission ever conducted by U.S. military forces. It concerns the rescue of American prisoners-of-war at a Japanese camp in the Philippines near the end of World War II. In the waning days of the war, Japanese military leaders had issued a "kill all" prisoners order, and American leaders figured that if they didn't rescue the imprisoned soldiers, who'd been held since the beginnning of the war under truly awful conditions, that none of them would ever get out alive.
Two books have been written on the subject, "The Great Raid" and, more recently, "Ghost Soldiers" by Hampton Sides.
I recommended "Ghost Soldiers" in my News-Gazette book club because it's a great story both of survival under the harshest conditions and military daring. It was a natural for the big screen, which explains why Hollywood producers rushed to get the story on the big screen.
But Hollywood can never leave well-enough alone, and it is the Hollywoodization of "The Great Raid" that is the movie's weakest part.
The standard movie formula must requires some sort of romance, no matter what the actual story is. So screenwriters invented a fictional romance between a prisoner, the commander of the POWs, and a nurse who's free in Manila but works to smuggle medicine to the POWs. Much of the movie is spent meandering back and forth from the commander to the nurse as they pine away for each other while trying to stay alive until the war is over.
Pathos generally has its place, but not here. In a movie that carefully proclaimed itself to be "inspired by true events," this fictional romance stood out like a drunk at a funeral.
I would have loved to give this movie five stars. Having read and enjoyed the book, I wanted the movie to be its equal. It is, after all, a hell of a story. But it's a mediocre movie, good only in parts. Unfortunately for me, that's about as high a praise as I can give any movie these days.