I love World War 2 films and for the most part I believe there are a lot of really good ones out there. Normally, with the right cast and director these movies can end up getting tons of money thrown their way by studios and usually this results in the films being really good. The Great Raid is an exception to that though, this film was boring, poorly cast, and while the special effects were good, that wasn't enough to make this far-too-long snoozefest a real chore to watch.
Let me detail what is wrong with this movie and YES, there will be spoilers because I don't think anyone should waste their time watching this.
It's entirely too long
This film is over 2 hours long in the theatrical cut and tops out at nearly 3 hours in the directors cut, which I didn't watch and have no desire to. The theatrical release is already boring enough, we don't need more.
The film is about a true-to-life rescue raid of a Japanese POW camp in the Philippines that took place in1945 as the tide of the war was turning. The actual event was a pretty amazing accomplishment since it was a tremendous success that resulted in very little Allied casualties, unfortunately that part of the film is only a very small portion of the overall experience. The rest of the movie is a bunch of talking akin to what you see above. They could have eliminated at least a half hour of this because the character development still doesn't really happen despite the long runtime.
I like James Franco and think he is a pretty damn fine actor if he is in the correct role. This is not the right role for him though. He simply is not a convincing soldier, let alone a convincing military leader that other soldiers would rally behind. He's just to small and child-like to pull this off.
Franco plays the role of Robert Prince, who was IRL a commander for an elite Rangers battalion and he is presented as a master strategist that is held in high regard by the higher ups in the military. While the actual Robert Prince was also small in stature, James just doesn't belong in this role. I don't know how to properly explain it but the casting is just wrong in this regard. The other actors don't fare much better with even Joseph Fiennes, who I quite respect as an actor, coming across as wooden and out of place.
Nothing really happens until the last 15 minutes
If you are a bit of a WW2 history buff like I am, you already know the outcome of the battle. Even if you aren't familiar with it you walk into this with a pretty solid idea that the Allies are going to win because a film wouldn't' be made about this if they didn't. Therefore, spending an hour and a half doing a bunch of talking to lead to the inevitable raid just becomes exceptionally boring.
The unnecessary and fictional built-in love story
The film spends an inordinate amount of time focusing on the "love story" of a soldier separated from his lady as he was captured and is in a POW camp. She is a nurse in Manilla and lives under occupied Japanese rule. Her character's name is Margaret Utinsky and I feel as though this really does her legacy a disservice because the love story, as it turns out, is totally made up. I'm not going to fault actress Connie Nielsen's performance. Quite the contrary actually as she does the best acting of anyone in the cast.
The real Margaret Utinsky was actually a very important part of the US-led war effort in the Philippines and she ended up getting a Medal of Freedom for her actions providing intelligence to Allied forces. The completely fictional love story is rather disrespectful in my opinion and it starts to feel as though they were going for a Titanic-esque romance to pass the time. The problem is that love story wasn't necessary to link the two groups and they spend a great deal of time focusing on that even though if it were eliminated entirely, it would have zero impact on the overall story.
Too many storylines going on
You remember how Saving Private Ryan was so epic and even though there was a ton going on, the ultimate objective was still focused on a few central characters? Well The Great Raid focuses on so many different people that there are too many "side missions" going on and it becomes difficult to focus on what the hell is going on.
OK, i get it. An actual military raid actually would have a ton of people involved in the operation but that doesn't mean that we have to pay homage to ALL of them in a film. Despite the really long run-time of this film, we have very little in the way of character development, to the point where you don't actually know anything about any of the characters and after a while, you no longer care. They tried to tell too many stories and because of this, we don't really have a chance to focus on any one of them. There were many times that I got confused as to who's story was who's and after a while I just gave up.
I probably would have switched this one off if i had some other idea what I was going to watch as an alternative but I couldn't think of anything. I will admit that I spent a lot of time on my phone while this was on because it is just flat-out boring - which is really quite an accomplishment for a war film with an 80 million dollar budget. This film lost tons of money at the box office, barely managing to pull in 10 million dollars of ticket sales. It was lambasted by most critics and has a less than 40% review score on the major movie websites.
Do yourself a favor and do literally anything else for 2 hours rather than watch this. Trust me, you are doing yourself a favor.