Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Alec Baldwin, Cuba Gooding Jr., Jon Voight
MPAA Rating: (for sustained intense war sequences, images of wounded, brief sensuality and some language)
Running Time: 3:03
Release Date: 5/25/01
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Review by Mark Dujsik
The bombing of Pearl Harbor was quick, precise, and strategic. Pearl Harbor is a mindless action movie passing as a serious war epic that is dragged out, unsure, and quite random. It places one of the most uninteresting love stories Iíve seen against the backdrop of one of this countryís greatest tragedies. This is the kind of movie that thinks itís dignified. Unfortunately, it is full of dull characters, poor dialogue, and monotonous action. It seems to try as hard as it can, but its efforts are pointless.
The movie opens with a strange display of domestic abuse that is supposed to set up a few things. First, it shows the life-long relationship between two friends, Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) and Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett), as they grow up in Tennessee with the dream of becoming fighter pilots. Next it sets up a theme the movie attempts to get across. After young Danny calls Rafeís dad a German, the dad says, "I fought the Germans, right on the lines. Iíve seen things I hope no one ever sees," or something to that extent. Itís supposed to inspire thoughts of horrific events, it only really inspires a laugh as dad walks away, as if itís not that important. There are a lot of accidental laughs to come.
Once this pleasant memory is over, Rafe and Danny are training with the Air Force. They play chicken, and Rafe is reprimanded only to be given the chance to fight with the RAF. He grabs the opportunity, and we now meet Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale), a nurse. She is on a train with her fellow nurses, headed somewhere, and we are treated to a flashback of one of the most annoying meet-cutes in recent memory. Evelyn was doing eye tests for the pilots, and Rafe either canít see, canít read, or is just stupid. By the end of the movie, I still wasnít sure of which it was. Evelyn letís him pass, and one drug-overdose, concussion, and broken nose later, they go out on a date. Their relationship essentially consists of mouthing such platitudes as "I like you" and "Youíre so pretty, it hurts" with such serious intentions, more laughs ensue.
Once Rafe heads off to fight, their mindless banter is transmitted through letters, and Rafe is shot-down and presumed dead (the key word is "presumed"). Three months later, Evelyn realizes she should move on, and goes straight to Danny, who is more than eager. Once theyíve consummated their relationship, we learn (gasp!) Rafe is alive. Iíve seen more original and dramatic plot lines on soap operas.
I have been kind enough to divulge the first hour and a half, because we all know the only reason people will see this movie is the bombing. It disappoints. As the Japanese fly towards their target in the early morning dawn hours, children play baseball, a woman is hanging her laundry, and children are apparently headed to church in Halloween costumes. Would all of this be happening this early? Probably not, but it makes for cheap dramatic effect. To simply call this movie historically inaccurate does not do justice to its inaccuracies. Once the planes arrive, the fireworks begin. This is thirty-five minutes of continuous explosions, gun fire, and flying bodies. Itís impressive for the first ten minutes, and then it grows tiresome. The first time you see the torpedo/bombís perspective as it races towards its target, it works. The second, third and fourth time, though, it gets boring. The first time you see a plane fly through a row of ships, itís impressive. The second and third time, it once again gets boring. Transferring the special effect to a row of building doesnít boost the intensity either. Although, I must congratulate director Michael Bay for finally assuming that audiences have longer attention spans than he seemed to think in Armageddon.
I must also question the way in which the attack is presented. If this movie is supposed to honor the tragedy, why is it exploited so much? The sequence is not an accurate recreation, but instead a thoughtless and special-effects-laden action set piece. It does not honor; it exploits. If this movie is a dedication to the men and women who served during World War II, I would suggest they seek legal counsel to have their names removed.
Unfortunately, Bayís style and Randall Wallaceís clichť-ridden script cramp whatever emotional attachment we should have for the characters. As they spout their banal talk, Bay keeps his camera close, as if watching two people talk at an average distance would be boring. The result: we see all of one characterís face but only half the otherís. Then there are the other action sequences, which Bay fills with annoying camera tricks. Rafeís dogfights on the front are full of shaky camera movements that are headache-inducing.
Of course, as it has been talked about for some time now, I must comment on the treatment of the Japanese in the movie. They are the enemiesópure and simple. There are no attempts to identify with them, and at times, the movie makes them look like cold-hearted murderers. We also are led to believe that a surprise attack on the US is wrong, but the US executing a surprise attack is right. It is an obvious attempt to manipulate the audience. However, to say the movie is manipulative in any way is giving it far too much credit. It attempts to manipulate but can never come close to accomplishing its mission.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.