Monday, August 23, 2021

Pearl Harbor


Epic Portions

A Japanese bomber soars over the ill-fated Hawaiian harbor in the early morning hours of that infamous date in history. As it releases it's deadly weapon of destruction, the camera follows it down, a 'bomb's eye' view of it's descent into the hull of the USS Arizona. Ripping through the bulkheads like tissue paper, it comes to rest in the battleship's hull, moments later exploding, dealing a crippling blow to the unsuspecting American fleet.

This creative camerawork is one of the highlights of the exhausting middle hour of Pearl Harbor (released by Disney's Touchstone division), the latest motion picture account of the devastating events that led to the United States' involvement in World War II. Played out in real time, the attack scenes have a raw intensity, a "you are there" feel that every war film following Saving Private Ryan is now obligated to have.

Unfortunately, this thrilling yet gut-wrenching sequence is bookended by two more hours of story. The film is it's own mini-saga, an instant gratification trilogy, packing three distinct movies into one very long three-hour-plus running time.

The first hour or so provides the back story, a love triangle involving two lifelong buddies-turned-fighter pilots (Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett) who both fall for the same beautiful Army nurse (Kate Beckinsale). This doomed romance owes a great deal to an earlier classic, From Here to Eternity. There is an intentional effort put into recreating the look and feel of, not the 1940s time period itself, but of the films of that era, with the 'aw-shucks' patriotism and 'doin' it for my girl back home' bravado. But a little of this goes, as most clich├ęs often do, a long way. By the time the oh-so predictable plot twists are reveled (I'm giving nothing away by saying that the apparent demise of a certain character is negated by the fact of which actor is playing the role), I was giving into the un-American urge to scream "just bomb the place already!"

Following the sensory over-load of the titular tragedy, we are subjected to the built-in sequel: the subsequent "Doolittle Raid" on Tokyo. This tactic, of tacking on the requisite 'happy ending' where the American forces are victorious, is painfully obvious, albeit not entirely unjustified. This is, after all, an American film made by an American company for American audiences eager to reawaken their latent flag-waving genes.

As brought to the screen by uber-producer Jerry Bruckheimer, he-man director Michael Bay (who previously collaborated on such testosterone-fests as The Rock and Armageddon) and Braveheart scribe Randall Wallace, Pearl Harbor hopes to follow in the box office footsteps of a certain other fictionalized-romance-set-against-the-backdrop-of-a-cataclysmic-history-altering-event-epic-motion-picture-event. (You know what I'm talking about; I'll resist jumping on the bandwagon of so many who are quick to pontificate on the many similarities between the two films. I won't even invoke the "T" word here.)

Director Bay is not known for his handling of actors; he is much more at home blowing stuff up; this film is his attempt at breaking out of the 'glorified B-movie' ghetto he has created for himself. But while he is preoccupied with endless low-angle shots of our heroes in slow motion and embarrassing attempts at symbolism (let's just say that he could be arrested for desecrating a lot of flags in this movie), some fine performances do emerge.

In previous films such as Good Will Hunting and Bay's Armageddon, Ben Affleck has perfected his 'guy's guy' persona, while still maintaining enough goofy sensitivity to add to his appeal to women. As Rafe McCawley , he taps further into that 'feminine side,' fleshing out his character into a truly romanticized war hero, one you could truly "keep the home fires burning" for. And, even with having to bark such lines as "just get me in a plane!", this is his best performance to date.

Kate Beckinsale, icy before in her work in such films as The Last Days of Disco and Cold Comfort Farm, blossoms into a screen siren in here pivotal role as Evelyn Johnson. With period hair and make-up that would give Ava Gardner a run for her money, and a flawless American accent, I didn't even recognize this British actress who's most famous role to date was Jane Austin's Emma on A&E. Her role as a nurse also makes it possible to show the women behind the men in this 'man's war'... Rosie the Riveter would be proud.

Josh Hartnett plays the final point in this lover's triangle, Danny Walker. While his boyish good looks and constantly wounded demeanor make him the likely heir to the throne of Leo in the hearts and fan mags of teenage girls everywhere, he has the acting chops to be the one to watch for in the future.

The roles played by the above three actors are fictitious, but there are historical figures represented in Pearl Harbor as well. Alec Baldwin, former leading man who has now graciously moved on to such character roles, plays Colonel James H. Doolittle, the career army man behind the retaliation strike against Japan. Cuba Gooding Jr. portrays real life hero Dorie Miller, an Army cook who took to the guns to down several enemy aircraft during the raid. Japanese acting legend Mako adds quiet dignity to role of Admiral Yamamoto. And yes, underneath the rubber face, that is Jon Voight as President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

While at times rousing and jaw-dropping in it's spectacle, Pearl Harbor indulges to much in it's own self-appointed fervor. Some economy should have been applied to the storytelling, as the human aspects amount to little more then filler as we watch the clock tick down to 7:55 A.M., December 7, 1941.

Toon Talk Rating: C+
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 183 minutes
In theaters now nationwide.

Toon Talk Trivia:

  • A fighter pilot is seen painting a familiar looking duck on the side of his plane.
  • Cuba Gooding Jr. will lend his vocal talents to the upcoming Disney animated film Home on the Range.
  • FDR has made other appearances in Disney productions, including The Hall of Presidents at the Magic Kingdom, The American Adventure at Epcot and in The Wonderful World of Disney television version of the Broadway musical Annie.

-- Originally posted May 28, 2001