Another PEARL HARBOR Attack
Attack their eyes! Bash their eardrums! Assault their logic! Are these commands from Japanese officials planning a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941? Nope. Just Hollywood filmmakers discussing their plans to attack movie audiences sixty years later with a big budget depiction of that historic event. And succeed they do. After suffering through the cinematic version of Pearl Harbor for over three hours, my eyesight, hearing, and reasoning power may never be the same again. Jerky camera movements, overpowering sound effects, and implausible romantic relationships combine to make this ambitious war epic an artistic disaster.
Focusing on a soapy love story involving two pilots (Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett) and a nurse (Kate Beckinsale) stationed at Pearl Harbor before the bombing, the film contains so many clichés, I stopped taking notes early on during the screening. For example, there’s the old "I’m giving him my heart" line which Beckinsale (Cold Comfort Farm) says to Affleck (Bounce) when talking to him about the shyer, more sensitive Hartnett (Here on Earth).
Beckinsale, minus her delightful British accent, needs very little encouragement to fall for both patriotic fly boys at one time or another. Affleck and Hartnett, best buddies from childhood, later become bitter enemies because of their feelings for the lovely angel of mercy. Regrettably, it’s not easy to accept Affleck’s excessive anger, especially since his character is out of the picture (can’t give away more of the plot here) before anything happens between Beckinsale and Hartnett.
As a matter of fact, Affleck’s entire performance disappointed me. Although completely convincing as Matt Damon’s unselfish companion in Good Will Hunting and as a memorable motivational speaker in Boiler Room, he appears painfully uncomfortable as a dashing war hero. Could it be the script again? Even in the midst of that relentless sneak attack, Affleck has to say such silly things as "Get me into an airplane!" --- as if he can single-handedly stop the Japanese war machine.
I can’t help wondering if Randall Wallace really wrote this mediocre screenplay. After all, he’s the same man who received an Oscar nomination for Braveheart. So what happened here? During an interview in connection with The Man in the Iron Mask (his directing debut), Wallace told me he chooses projects that emphasize courage, morality, and heart. "Moviemaking costs too much time, money, and emotional involvement for one not to aim as high as one can," he explained. While Pearl Harbor pays tribute to the courage of World War II heroes like Colonel James Doolittle (Alec Baldwin) and Seaman Third Class "Dorie" Miller (Cuba Gooding Jr.), the first black man to receive the Navy Cross for valor, it lacks the heart and soul of Wallace’s previous works.
As someone who actually remembers Pearl Harbor (I was in grade school when the attack occurred), I expected so much more. The film doesn’t take me back to the things I recall most. Everyone in our family feared the Japanese would come into our town too and kill us all. Why not include some shots of people like us huddled around the radio listening to news about the attack --- terrified and dazed? I certainly wasn’t prepared to see U.S. nurses, except for Beckinsale’s character, portrayed as a bunch of airheads most of the time nor to watch an overly-mannered Jon Voight (Anaconda) become a caricature of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Thankfully, at least the Japanese military leaders emerge as human beings instead of the demons we were taught to hate in those days. (Don’t forget, Japanese moviegoers are an important part of Hollywood’s international market today.)
No doubt my admiration for director Michael Bay’s fast-paced visual style (in Armageddon and The Rock) also contributed to my Pearl Harbor letdown. Although Bay’s 45-minute sequence showing continuous bombing, strafing, torpedoing, and exploding of the U.S. Pacific fleet packs a devastating wallop of sight and sound, the rest of the movie fails to ignite similar excitement. Still, all is not lost. Viewing Pearl Harbor has increased my appreciation of other war movies. Saving Private Ryan, Tora! Tora! Tora! --- and, yes, even Enemy at the Gates --- seem like classics to me now.
(Released by Touchstone Pictures and rated "PG-13" for sustained intense war sequences, images of wounded, brief sensuality, and some language.)