Directed by Michael Bay
Starring Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, and Kate Beckinsale
I, for one, am very suspicious of a movie about an historical event that lasts nearly as long as the event itself. At nearly three hours, Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor covers nearly every genre of film save sci-fi, and while the battle scenes are intense, the rest of the movie drags, with overlapping love stories and sub-plots aplenty.
One of the things that my generation has missed in its maturing is that war is not always some remote, neatly edited for CNN “strategic” event. People die in war, and they do so in horrible, wasteful ways. This film illustrates this well – in fact it’s the most compelling aspect of the film. Caught largely unaware, Pearl Harbor lay ready for the taking, and the Japanese took full advantage of the relaxed conditions that existed with their early morning surprise attack. The film’s portrayal of Japanese strategy sessions is riveting, and rather evenhanded. Desperate because of an over dependence on foreign fuel (sound familiar?), the Japanese felt they had to strike America, even as they knew it was “awaking a sleeping giant.” The images of men trapped to drown in sinking ships are sobering, equally those of Doolittle’s raid on Tokyo.
But when the movie attempts to bring in the human aspect of the times, it falters, and seems to drag endlessly on. The romance(s) between Rafe (Ben Affleck), Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale), and Danny (Josh Hartnett) is as hackneyed as any B-movie love triangle, and Cuba Gooding, Jr.’s role as one of the few blacks stationed at Pearl is fine as far as it goes, but you wonder why it’s in the film at all. Jon Voight as Roosevelt is very good at depicting the struggle he faced as he tried to instill a spine in America while faced with a world in chaos. Dan Aykroyd plays his role of intelligence officer well, although one gets the feeling that key scenes concerning the capture and uses of Japanese data have been cut. If so, they are seemingly the only bits of shot film not to make it into the final cut.
The film reaches an emotional crescendo with the attack itself, and the last hour of the movie, with the preparations for the raid into Japan, are annoying slow and boring. Granted, I’m not a director, but instead of showing America entering the war, show them ending it. The specter of the mushroom cloud over Nagasaki and the near total ruin it caused would have reinforced the film’s message far better than the film’s actual ending did. This war showed America to be both vulnerable and ultimately triumphant (if war can contain any triumph at all, that is), and changed the world in almost all aspects. This is the lesson of Pearl Harbor, not syrupy love stories.