Pearl Harbor (2001)

Directed by Michael Bay
Written by Randall Wallace
Starring Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Alec Baldwin, Jon Voight

My Advice: Matinee.

It's America before their entry into World War II. The military is on guard, some worrying about the European theatre, some about the Pacific, all knowing that their involvement is inevitable. Two boyhood friends (Affleck and Hartnett) are Army flyers together, inseparable. When Affleck's character Rafe meets young nurse Evelyn (Beckinsale), then their paths are all destined to Pearl Harbor.

You're wondering why my synopsis has very little if anything to do with the actual attack that we all know is the centerpiece for the film. Well that's because the gist of the story, namely that romantic angle, has very little to do with the infamous December 7th date at Pearl Harbor. In fact, you could unplug the romance module from this film and plug it back into pretty much any other military conflict almost anytime in history. You could set the same story centered around the intrusion of the Trojan Horse as long as you changed out the planes for horses and chariots or something. Regardless, the point is this: there's nothing more debilitating than filmmakers who do not trust their own source material. The story of Pearl Harbor is interesting enough, it doesn't necessarily need a romance to go along with it.

Bear in mind that it isn't the fault of the romantic angle itself--it, in concept, was fine. The actors involved in it, the entire cast in fact, was exceptional. The fact they were able to coax such great performances out of such ham-fisted, wince-a-minute stretches of dialogue is a true sign of their collective intestinal fortitude. But the major problem here is that Michael Bay is not the director to deliver such a balance of action and romance. Bay does action. He does action very well. The reason that films like Armageddon were such fun was basically due to the fact that you didn't have time to stop and think about the bad lines, the bad scenes. You only had a few minutes of Affleck and Liv Tyler lying under a tree to contend with. Here? An hour and a half before the really interesting and engaging stuff begins. And with Armageddon you didn't get strange superfluous sideplots like the one handed Cuba Gooding Jr., whose character of Dorie Miller felt tacked on, again, to the overwhelming romantic engine that drives the story.

The standouts amongst the cast were Harnett and Affleck, both wading through the verbal muck, and Voight's turn as FDR, which was very impressive to watch. The cinematography is beautifully executed, as most Bruckheimer films are. But other than that, it's all in the admittedly breathtaking FX. It's all in plane bits flying at the camera. It's all in bigass explosions. Which is fine if that's all you're supposed to be getting, but Bay and company made it clear from the getgo that it's meant to be a love story set around an event of Great Weight and Portents. But they never trust an emotional moment to simply happen. They have to try and manufacture everything, and they fabricate these things badly. No one talks like these people do, not even in their most teenage starry-eyed stupid moments of unbridled passion. And as for the Great Weight? Well, in case you didn't get it, there's a narration on hand to help you when it comes down to the wire.

Bay and Wallace are simply the wrong people for this material. Sure, the event itself, the forty minutes of the attack are stunning. But it's the other two hours and twenty minutes that need help. Editing. Something, please. I'm giving it a matinee with a caveat: show up one hour and thirty minutes into the show so you can catch the attack and the immediate aftermath--then leave. If you can't work that, rent it on DVD so you can just skip to the good stuff.

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