The story behind Pearl Harbor, written by Braveheart scribe Randall Wallace, tells the story oftwo best friends from Tennessee, Rafe McCawley (Ben Affleck) and DannyWalker (Josh Hartnett). We are first introduced to the two in the openingscenes set in the 1920s as young children who dream of becoming pilots. Wethen jump ahead to 1940, where Rafe and Danny are in the ArmedForces, serving under the legendary James H Doolittle (Alec Baldwin).
McCawley’sslick flying skills have landed him an opportunity to volunteerfor service in the Royal Air Force (this was of course prior to the United States’ entry into WWII).Rafe leaves not only his best friend behind, but alsoan attractive nurse named Evelyn Johnson (Kate Beckinsale), whom McCawley hasmet and fallen in love with.
Rafe heads to England, while Danny and Evelynwind up stationed over at – you guessed it – Pearl Harbor. The film jumps fromEngland to Hawaii to Japan, where we see the Japanese scrupulously planningto attack the Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor, as well as WashingtonDC, where the government seems to be brushing off the possibility of anattack by the Japanese.
In 1941, months after it is reported that Rafe has been killed during an airbattle near the coast of France, Danny and Evelyn begin to grow closer anddecide to consummate a relationship. Of course, Rafe is not dead but quitealive and well and returns to Pearl Harbor just as things between Evelyn andDanny begin to get serious. Being that this is 6 December 1941, the trioreally won’t have much time to worry about their triangle just yet.The “day of infamy” commences on 7 December, and the three are caughtright in the middle of everything: Evelyn and her team of nurses desperatelytry to help the overwhelming numbers of wounded, while Danny and Rafe puttheir differences aside to help their fellow servicemen battle the surpriseenemy presence. Without a moment’s rest following the raid, McCawley andWalker are enlisted by Doolittle to fly in the 18 April 1942 Doolittle Raidon Tokyo, which many of the pilots perceive as a suicide mission.
Bay tries to take Titanic’s doomed young love story, Saving Private Ryan’sgritty realism and Top Gun’s flyboy antics, mix it together and make it hisown. There is only one problem: Michael Bay has little to none of the talentof either Steven Spielberg or James Cameron (Tony Scott he’s on par with).Titanic had dialogue equally as corny as Randall Wallace’s rancidwordfest here (which caused unintentional laughter here and there at thescreening I attended), but at least Cameron allowed his leads to get intotheir roles and develop them to the point that we bought into them. Bay doesnot. Accompanied by Hans Zimmer’s overbearing music score (which bears morethan a passing resemblance to his Gladiator offering) and a camera that neverstays still (another horrid Bay trademark), he races through each and everyscene like a person on speed. Had he let a single scene go on for more thanten seconds, there might have been a chance for us to connect.
On the action front, he attempts to mine Ryan’s gritty realism and here, heis slightly more successful. The attack on Pearl Harbor is a visual triumph,featuring images that Bay, cinematographer John Schwartzman and the folks atIndustrial Light and Magic can rightly consider impressive, haunting and award-worthy.Yet even here, we feel detached from the horror simply because wenever connect with the characters. Unlike the horrific bookend battles ofRyan that put us smack dab in the middle (and allowed us to feel the hell ofbattle), the attacks in Pearl Harbor keep us in the spectator stands for thewhole event.
As for the cast, well, if you don’t have a thing to work with in the scriptdepartment, you can’t really take all the blame. Affleck and Hartnett havethe heroic good looks, but deliver less emotional oomph than those skeletalpygmies in The Mummy Returns. The same goes for Beckinsale, who looks greatin 1940s clothing, but could easily have been replaced by a store mannequinand no one would have been the wiser.
Those that do survive the might of Michael Bay’s editing juggernaut andRandall Wallace’s galaxy of clichs to make a little bit of an impressionare Jon Voight as President Roosevelt and Baldwin as Doolittle. In theirshort time on screen, they manage to escape with some of their screencredibility intact. Cuba Gooding, Jr. also does a decent job in his briefrole as Doris “Dorie” Miller (and I do mean brief as in “blink and you misshim” brief), but it pretty much adds up to nothing more than a condensedversion of his character from last year’s Men Of Honor.
Take Titanic, add Saving Private Ryan and subtract all the great qualitiesof both of those films and you have Michael Bay’s Attention Deficit Disorderepic Pearl Harbor. Long, loud, bloated and emotionally stillborn, this overhypedturkey from the folks that brought you the headache-inducing crapfestArmageddon does have one awesome attack sequence in it, but what you have tosuffer in order to experience it is not worth your time or money.
Nothing is more disheartening to a movie lover than seeing trailers for aparticular movie, having your cinematic breath taken away by what you seeonly to have your hopes crushed like a grape under a tire after you watchthe final product. Sadly, this was the case with Pearl Harbor. Not the worstfilm of the year, but certainly the biggest disappointment so far. Then again,what did we expect for $135 million?