Pearl Harbor

Shamelessly old-fashioned and unabashedly cliche, “Pearl Harbor” tells the tale of two best friends who grow up to become fighter pilots and romantic rivals over the same nurse. Their story is told against the epic backdrop of the months leading up to the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

pearl harborHollywood loves a good war story, and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s subsequent entry into World War II makes for grand entertainment. The story has everything. Romance. Action. Heroism. History. Heartbreak. Unfortunately the script for “Pearl Harbor” by Randall Wallace (“Braveheart”) takes all of those elements and reduces them to their lowest common denominator.

I doubt audiences will mind how dumb and predictable “Pearl Harbor” is. They’ll be attracted by the film’s explosive special and visual effects, plus the young star power of Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett and Kate Beckinsale, who play the fly-boy love triangle. I’m sure they’ll be awed by the vivid recreation of the actual battle, which makes extensive use of modern technology to create believable carnage.

They won’t mind the film’s flimsy love story, which not only introduces every cliche in the cache, it exploits them for every thing they’re worth. It’s script writing for dumb people who need to have every plot point hammered home for them. Hell, audiences won’t even mind the film’s butt- numbing three hour length, which is two-and-a-half hours longer than the actual attack.

They may not mind, but I do. How insulting to take something as revered as the attack on Pearl Harbor and reduce it to three hours of laughable dialogue and star posturing. How sad that the filmmakers didn’t trust the power and impact of the real thing. Instead they wrap everything up in a big, pretty, generic Hollywood package that benefits no one.

How audacious to make a film about the men who lost their lives at Pearl Harbor and not connect with any of them. The script by Wallace spends an hour-and-a-half developing a sappy love story when the time would have been much better spent getting to know the men the war really affected. There are a few isolated attempts, but they are designed to evoke cheap sympathy than explore what makes these men tick.

So when the attack begins, we watch as hundreds of men valiantly give their lives, but car very little about them. They are nothing more than extras. Had Wallace and director Michael Bay spent more time with these characters, their fates and heroism would have made a much better film. For instance, Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. plays a black sailor Dorie Miller, who because of his color is stationed in the galley instead of behind a gun. The character’s conflicts are real, but obviously too much for the filmmakers to deal with.

So instead of making Miller a central character, he’s relegated to the back story. Which is sad considering that Miller became a war hero, earning a medal for his bravery and ability to take command in the middle of a very intense situation. Now that’s a story.

Square-jawed and buff, Ben Affleck looks the part of a fighter pilot, but there’s something lacking in his performance. His wavering southern accent and inability to infuse weak dialogue with dramatic strength work against him. Josh Hartnett has a young Tommy Lee Jones thing going on, which isn’t a bad thing unless you saw “The Betsy.” With his dark good looks and Clint Eastwood eyes, it’s easy to see why his best friend’s girl would come over to his camp.

Kate Beckinsale fares the best, playing a Navy nurse not only caught up in the horrors of war but trapped between a rock and a hard place in her love life. Beckinsale delivers the film’s bravest performance, working overtime to make something out of nothing. When she takes command during the attack, there’s real determination in her spirit. In contrast, when Affleck and Hartnett gather forces to beat back the Japanese, they feel like big kids playing war.

The film’s calling card is the actual attack on Pearl Harbor, and indeed the half-hour sequence is stunning, but only for about five minutes. Then it becomes repetitious. Unless we care about the men being killed, all of this is just high tech pyrotechnics. The scenes of destruction are epic and occasionally jaw-dropping, but they go on and on. How many times can you toss an exploding plane at the screen before it becomes boring? Twice.

At three hours, “Pearl Harbor” labors on. The film doesn’t end with the attack, but the Dolittle raid on Tokyo, which offers Wallace and Bay even more opportunity to whip out the big book of clichés. Does every pilot facing certain doom have a picture of his girlfriend handy to look at and admire?

Cutting an hour out of “Pearl Harbor” would have made it a much better film. The love story is so weak that cutting it in half would be doing it a favor. Give us a half-hour prologue, the Japanese attack, a little time to regroup and end with the Dolittle raid.

Everything else is just filler to justify the film’s $140 million cost. “Pearl Harbor” lacks the emotional ballast of Fred Zinnemann’s “From Here to Eternity,” the documentary urgency of “Tora! Tora! Tora!” or the human spectacle of the television miniseries “The Winds of War.” It’s as shallow as the harbor itself, and just as wet.

BOMBS AWAY!Tale of heroic pilots grounded by cowardly cliché


Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding Jr., Tom Sizemore, Alec Baldwin, Jon Voight. Directed by Michael Bay. Rated PG-13. 183 Minutes.


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