Pearl Harbor


Directed by: Michael Bay
Written by:Randall Wallace
Starring: Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding Jr, Alec Baldwin, William Lee Scott, Jon Voight, Ewan Bremner
Released: June 7, 2001
Grade: C+

Having just wasted three hours, I’ll cut right to the chase.  With all the advertising and publicity (the premiere alone cost $9m), most will already have an understanding of the story.  Rafe (Affleck) and Danny (Hartnett) are best buddies and great fighter pilots.  As World War II continues, Rafe is assigned to help the British fight the advancing Germans.  He will be torn from his new love, an army nurse named Evelyn (Beckinsale), who has been posted at Pearl Harbor.

When Rafe’s plane is shot down, word of his death reaches America which shatters both Evelyn and Danny.  Months pass before the two run into each other at a cinema and in discussing their depression at a local cafe, a romantic connection forms between them.  However, their newly found happiness will be short-lived when Rafe turns up alive to complicate the situation...

Before anyone has a chance to comprehend Rafe’s survival, Pearl Harbor is bombed by a Japanese sneak attack.  History tells us that over 3,700 were killed in just a few hours on December 7, 1941 and it signalled the start of America’s involvement in World War II.

Look, I have never been a fan of director Michael Bay and all his films (Armageddon, The Rock and Bad Boys) are bullshit.  Pearl Harbor is his attempt to tackle more important subject material (kind of like what Steven Spielberg did in making Schindler’s List).  Unfortunately, the film has all the trademarks of Michael Bay and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. 

Despite visual effects wizardry and blistering action sequences, these characters have no soul.  I love to hear beautifully spoken dialect but it’s more suited to a Shakespearean drama and not a war epic.  These people speak as if every sentence has been crafted from hours of thought which doesn’t add to the drama but rather adds to the laughter.

There’s beautiful cinematography from John Schwartzman and deep music from Hans Zimmer but is it appropriate in a war setting?  Do we really have to have romantic scenes played out in slow motion to soft lullabies on coastal settings?  At times during the key action sequence, I felt I was watching a rock video with all the music, editing and changes in pace.

I went into the film with pessimism but I do concede that on more than one occasion, I had that queasy emotion feeling.  Yet every time I tried to lose my heart in this story, a stupid line or a corny sequence would slip me back to the reality that is the darkened cinema.  The only difference between this film and Armageddon is that the story is based on an actual event - nothing else has effectively changed.

I could continue to criticise the numerous flaws that many others have pointed out regarding historical inaccuracies.  I nearly pewked when an Englishman said “if all American pilots are as good as you, then god help anyone who attacks America”.  Cuba Gooding Jr is thrown in as the token black character who (like he does in Men Of Honor) rises against the white supremacists and wins respect.  It didn’t come as any surprise either to see the Japanese portrayed so negatively - why would any female want to root for an ugly Japanese guy when Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett are on the other team?  I will single out Jon Voight as the only cast member to impresses with his portrayal of President Roosevelt.

So there you have it - the biggest blockbuster of the year is a disappointment.  Still, it’ll make $500m worldwide at the box-office and leave Bay and Bruckheimer to contemplate another historical event to rape on the big screen.  I guess it doesn’t matter what event they choose because when you can spend $200m on special effects, who needs a script?  It reminds of the famous line when 30’s B-grade director Ed Wood was asked if the script was ready for his new movie - “fuck no!” he said, “but there’s a poster!”