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Pearl Harbor

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Pearl Harbor

Starring: Ben Affleck, Kate Beckinsale
Director: Michael Bay
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 183 Minutes
Release Date: May 2001
Genres: Action, Drama, War, Romance

Review by Jerry Saravia
No Rating Supplied

I recall a short 1995 film by director Arthur Penn made in conjunction with the one-hundred-year anniversary of the Lumiere films. The film focused on a group of Japanese children running through a playground as the camera tracks them and we hear explosions in the soundtrack. The area they played in was a Hiroshima bombing site. The film was a meaningful, poetic way of conveying the message that war can destroy dreams, especially those of innocent Japanese children. Not that I expected Michael Bay's souped-up, more-bang-for-your-buck extravaganza to capture such poetry but it could have at least tried. "Pearl Harbor" is "Armageddon" for people who love revisionist, dumbed-down history for the sake of some special-effects. Considering that "Harbor" and "Armageddon" come from Bay, I should have known better than to expect a serious treatise on one of the more tragic events in American history.

The bulk of "Pearl Harbor" is a tired, cliche-ridden - not let's rethink that. The bulk of the film is a bland, superfluous romance suffused with enough syrupy music and dull melodrama to make women swoon for all the wrong reasons. Ben Affleck is Rafe McCawley, the flyboy pilot whose aspirations outweigh his romantic charisma. He falls for a nurse (Kate Beckinsale) after being injected with hypodermic needles in his arse. They fall in love too quickly even for standard screen time, and it is no wonder since neither has much inner life or interest beyond blind love. Rafe's childhood buddy, Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett), is also an ambitious pilot. He falls for the nurse exactly three months after Rafe has been premused dead from being shot in the skies by enemy fire. I am sure you'll know what to expect next. I would have thought that a soap-opera plot like this would have died eons ago. Honestly, why would such a simplistic love story interest anyone now in this millenium?

About one hour and a half later, the film gets to the Pearl Harbor tragedy where over 2,500 people died after being bombed by Japanese fighter planes. The whole frenetic sequence lasts forty minutes. Then we segue back to the love story itself before we get a climax where the U.S. bombs Tokyo in retaliation (the inspiration for the novel and film of the same name, "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo"). In the meantime, the Japanese commandants are briefly shown to be dubious of their attack strategy, only to be shown as inhuman villains for the sake of some forced heroic chutzpah from the Americans in Tokyo.

The two attack scenes are full of razzle-dazzle effects and plenty of explosions but something feels off in the execution. The attitude is all wrong and that should come as no surprise for those who enjoyed the popcorn mentality of "Armageddon" (I was among the minority). Director Bay enjoys visual overkill and he loves Dolby-ized explosions but all at the expense of human involvement or human tragedy. He does not present it as a post-"Saving Private Ryan" reality where we feel the loss of innocent lives by unforeseeable forces. Instead, it is an exciting sequence but almost too exciting - the thrill is sickening knowing how many people actually suffered and died (especially those trapped inside the "Arizona" ship). We may as well be watching "Rambo" rather than a serious World War II film.

If the attack scenes were omitted, we would be left with two hours of an interminable, sappy romance that lacks passion and chemistry. Ben Affleck can't cut it as a romantic leading man. Josh Hartnett is simply fodder for Affleck so he can have at least one bar fight and a final reconciliation that smacks of pure sentimental hogwash. Kate Beckinsale comes off unscathed but compare her thankless role to her work in "Last Days of Disco," and you may be left wondering what a potentially exciting actress is doing in a movie like this.

With Affleck as a witless flyboy, Jon Voight as former president F.D.R. who seems ready to have a stroke, Alec Baldwin as the pontificating Col. Dolittle and Beckinsale as the love object of the two pilots, not to mention a characterless tragedy portrayed as the latest in flag-waving American propaganda, "Pearl Harbor" manages to sink history down the drain and everyone involved with it.

Note: I have the feeling that nowadays, people can't handle or admit to certain truths. They rather have their history toned from an R rating so it is more acceptable to the masses, thus causing the least amount of controversy possible. It is disheartening to know that people will see this movie to see the Pearl Harbor fireworks sequence, forgetting that it should be upsetting to watch, not exhilarating.

Copyright 2001 Jerry Saravia

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