A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
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What's the story?
"We all knew the idealistic notion of rescuing POWs far outweighed its strategic value," intones narrator Captain Robert Prince (James Franco). It's January 1945, and 511 survivors of the Bataan Death March are wasting away in a prison camp in Philippines, and a team of 121 Army Rangers and Alamo Scouts means to recover them. When they hear the camp's commander, Major Nagai (Motoki Kobayashi), will soon be executing all prisoners, under Tokyo's "Kill All" policy, the Rangers' Lieutenant Colonel Henry Mucci (Benjamin Bratt) and Prince make their move. At the same time, the prisoners struggle to maintain hope after three years in the camp. Malarial Major Gibson (Joseph Fiennes) leads by example, physically weaker by the day but determined to survive until rescue.
Is it any good?
Adapted from Breuer’s The Great Raid on Cabanatuan and Sides’ Ghost Soldiers, this film reaffirms familiar oppositions between bravery and iniquity, by way of a by-the-numbers WWII movie plot. And its representations of variously raced characters -- Japanese, the Filipinos, the Caucasians -- are careless. It's a portrayal necessitated and perpetuated by war: the enemy must look less than human. The film includes several solid Filipino soldiers, including the valiant Captain Juan Pajota (Cesar Montano), whose resistance army holds off a Japanese deployment to ensure the rescue mission's success. Still, the raid itself resorts to simplistic good and bad images, with no comprehension of the Japanese beyond what seems a singular desire to commit atrocities.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the possible reasons for this film's historical basis -- a raid in which U.S. military rescued 511 prisoners from a Japanese prison camp -- having remained largely untaught in U.S. classrooms and unheralded in popular culture. This fictionalized version adds a romance (between a soldier and a nurse) and tense relationships among U.S. soldiers, both rescuers and prisoners: what dramatic purposes do these storylines serve? How does the nurse's devotion to the major help connect action in two locations? How does the movie represent the Japanese and Filipino soldiers, in their very different relations to the U.S. troops?
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