Sunday, February 7, 2016

Pearl Harbor (2001) Review:

For the mid-1990s, it was a big time for director Michael Bay. After successfully making three action blockbusters with Bad Boys (1995), The Rock (1996) and Armageddon (1998), producers thought that Bay would be the next best director to handle another blockbuster made film. However, this movie came in the form of a more delicate topic and that was the tragedy of Pearl Harbor. On December 7, 1941, Japanese forces landed a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. An event that took several by surprise and shock, the infamous day would forever be remembered as the day the US would enter World War II. This particular event isn't per-say something anyone would want to revisit. After all, this movie would be released 60 years after the actual tragedy. Yet the film was made anyway. As for those who know what Michael Bay is capable of, some may be a bit leery of how he handles such a touchy issue. Well, he actually does both. He doesn't make it insultingly terrible but he also misses the point on some degree too.

Ben Affleck & Kate Beckinsale
Randall Wallace wrote the script to this war drama. Wallace was also known for The Man in the Iron Mask (1998) and more notably Braveheart (1995). Here, Wallace flubs a bit on what exactly what is more important. Pearl Harbor actually takes a backseat and yet this is what the title clearly states what it should be about. Instead, viewers are introduced to Capt. Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) and Capt. Danny Walker (Josh Hartnett), two young men who enjoy nothing but flying planes and looking to go fight for their country. Of the two, Rafe is the older one and acts like an older brother to Danny. As they grow up, they enlist into the air force. Rafe ends up meeting Nurse Lt. Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale) during physical exams. As to what happens between these three, it is fairly obvious as to what becomes of them. If you have two male and one female lead, there's not much else to be said. The love subplot just feels too cliché to have for this movie.

What war film fans usually enjoy is the struggle of living through the bad times. Look at Steven Spielberg in Saving Private Ryan (1998), Ronald F. Maxwell in Gettysburg (1993) or even Edward Zwick in Glory (1989). All these films focused on characters that had their own separate lives given through carefully written backstories. This gave a better picture of the people involved in the overall time period where the event took place. Here, Pearl Harbor feels like more of pawn in this love story than vice versa. This is the area where Michael Bay doesn't quite get it. It has been clearly stated by him that he liked the love story but giving it all the attention was not the right direction. Apparently, Bay also included some historical inaccuracies that angered both US and Japanese veterans. If a filmmaker is going to make a war film, there has to be some decency to keep the facts right. It's also understood everything may not come out right but at least try not to make it controversial.

This is about it though. The acting itself is fairly acceptable from both sides of the war. The cast is also packed with a lot of familiar faces. Ewen Bremner from Guy Ritchie's Snatch. (2000), plays one of Danny and Rafe's fellow pilots. There are also appearances from Alec Baldwin, Jaime King, Jennifer Garner, Jon Voight (as FDR), Cuba Gooding Jr., Michael Shannon, Dan Aykroyd, Makoto Iwamatsu and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. For the most part these actors are far less involved but still have a significant amount of time. The chemistry between Affleck and Hartnett feel real; they certainly act and behave like brothers a number of times. It is bit weird seeing Affleck talking with a southern accent though. Beckinsale's chemistry with the two works as well but the blatant overuse of her role as the main storyline may make her annoying to some. It's not say that love stories didn't exist during the events of Pearl Harbor but making it the star of a tragedy seemed in poor taste.

This is what it should've been more about
The special effects and action are nicely executed though. This is a Michael Bay film so that should be at least natural for him. Even more appreciated is that Bay doesn’t go overboard on his pyrotechnics either. Really the only big set piece is the attack on Pearl Harbor and although it isn't as graphically realistic, it is still difficult to watch. War is ugly and that's exactly what Bay gets right. Everything dealing the impending danger is accurately displayed with none of Bay's comedic shtick people loathe him for. The camerawork handled by John Schwartzman (Armageddon (1998) & Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (2009)) is decent too. Occasionally Schwartzman will use shaky camera to emulate first person but that's it. The rest is smooth with wide panning shots. Lastly the music by Hans Zimmer is memorable too. Again although the love story should not have been of main focus, Zimmer has a great theme for that and the Japanese Empire. Well done.

Pearl Harbor is an event nobody should forget and for much of the long running time, it's not focused on a lot. The writing and direction focuses more on the love story than the event itself. If that's the case, then just change the title. However, Michael Bay thankfully omits his usual humor and abundant explosions in exchange for more control. The music, camerawork and depiction of war are nicely done too. Just don't expect Pearl Harbor to be around a lot.

Points Earned --> 5:10

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