The Great Raid
I like war movies. In Harm's Way, The Longest Day, Bridge On The River Kwai and countless others have been long-term favourites of mine. There are many reasons to like a war movie aside from the cathartic passivity that comes from seeing things blown up. A good war movie provides the entertainment of watching superbly executed strategy. A great war movie tells the stories of the warriors in such a way that allows the film to serve as a metaphor for life and the human condition. A poor war movie feels the need to bang the viewer over the head with the twin messages of "War Is Hell" and "Sometimes The Bastards That Run Life Make You Fight For Something." This is usually accomplished with a voice-over. Something along the lines of "the boys that were on that beach were ordinary men." You know you're in for a BAD war movie if the voice-over mentions a wife/mother/twin babies. Generally the audience for this type of flick knows full well that there are beloved families and devoted golden retrievers Back Home. It insults our intellegence to so maudlinly state the obvious.
The Great Raid will forever serve as the exception that proves the Voice Over rule. Bookended by a spoken narrative featuring newsreel footage from the Pacific Theater and a mention of a protagonist's wife, this is nevertheless one of the best war movies I've seen in years. It is perhaps the best one released in my lifetime. Other than two brief criticisms of FDR and Douglas Macarthur–which I find remarkably easy to live with–the film plays as a war movie should. It outlines the mission objectives clearly and concisely, presents heroes and villains and creates a suspensful dramatic tension about the mission.
This week was the 60th anniversary of the nuclear attacks on Japan. Monday is the 60th anniversary of V-J day. Both the blogosphere and the MSM have been full of hair-shirt reexaminations of Fat Man and Little Boy. From our safe and well-espresso'd offices it is easy to wonder about the decisions made about the particular boil on Roosevelt's arse that was the Pacific Theater. It is apparently also easy to forget that these decisions were made by worn and weary men who saw more grief and torture in five years than many of us will see in our lifetimes. This movie, without bearing the cudgel of revisionism, allows its intelligent audience to meditate on these questions while showing us that sometimes true valour and compassion require sacrifice.