Pearl Harbor (2001) / War-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, sensuality and language
Running time: 183 min
Cast: Ben Affleck, Josh Hartnett, Kate Beckinsale, Cuba Gooding, Jr., Jon Voight, Alec Baldwin, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Garner, Michel Shannon, Dan Aykroyd, Colm Feore, Mako
Cameo: Guy Torry, Eric Christian Olsen, Kim Coates, John Diehl
Director: Michael Bay
Screenplay: Randall Wallace
Review published May 27, 2001
Considering the track record to date between producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Michael Bay (Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon), I was a bit leery about the prospects of sitting through three hours of over-produced, directorial masturbation that has been the staple for the duo the last three outings. While I tried to keep my mind open and my fingers crossed that my fears would prove unfounded, it is to my dismay that I must report that Pearl Harbor is yet another overcooked and underdeveloped outing guaranteed to make many a dollar for both of them. To me, Pearl Harbor is the worst kind of movie to have to sit through for three hours, neither good nor so-bad-it's-good, it just keeps your hopes up enough early on that things will take off at some point, until you sober up to the realization that it isn't, and what's worse, you get that nauseous feeling after checking your watch only to find there are still two hours to go.
We start off the movie with the two protagonists as boys, Rafe (Affleck, Reindeer Games) and Danny (Hartnett, The Virgin Suicides), with dreams of glory at becoming pilots when they grow up. Later in life, they enlist into the Army Air Corps, where they have a grand old time with their new found pals, especially Rafe, who finds his hot babe nurse, Evelyn (Beckinsale, The Last Days of Disco), to cavort with. Rafe is given the opportunity to do what he's always wanted and see the theater of combat first-hand in aiding Britain's Royal Air Force. Vowing to consummate their relationship upon his return to give himself something to look forward to, Evelyn and Danny begin getting it on when they hear the news that Rafe is probably dead after his plane is shot down. Of course, it isn't and the inevitable angst love-triangle is formed when Rafe joins them at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii shortly before the Japanese air raid ensues.
Pearl Harbor is merely an attempt to cash in on the formula Titanic created, throwing a fictional romance amid the backdrop of a monumental tragedy so that we feel the bitterest sorrow when the events unfold. It could have worked again save for one thing. At no time do we care. We don't care if Evelyn ends up with Rafe, Danny, neither, or both. We don't care if Rafe dies, Danny dies or if the entire ensemble of actors is wiped out. In fact, and I really hate to say this, the way the film is set up makes us not feel much for the people at Pearl Harbor who die tragically during the surprise attack. And when you realize that the film is so hollow to the core as to make us not care about Americans dying in a reenactment of a real-life event, you can only wonder how bad the filmmaking has to be to set up for over an hour to make us ultimately be disinterested in the fates of so many while they are being massacred for 40 minutes of screen time.
I know there are addicts of eye-candy and explosions who will come away thinking Pearl Harbor is great entertainment, but to those I ask you this. During the admittedly impressive Japanese attack, did you actually think of how amazing certain shots were, how neat the "bombs-eye" angle was, or how earth-shattering the explosions were? If the answer is yes, then you should only conclude the film really was a failure since "cool shots" and "neato explosions" should have been the last thing running through your mind at the slaughter of men, women and children whose deaths are reenacted in a sickening display for our entertainment purposes. In fact, it should come us repugnant that the Bay/Bruckenheimer team would use such an event, salivating at the chance to use it as the backdrop for an ersatz romance and an excuse for explosions to hopefully cash in the way Titanic did.
Now that I think about it, I may have been wrong about the love story not working. Yes, the love-triangle was a limp noodle from the get-go, but it's the love-making session between Bay and the bombs that one will ultimately see as one of the great romances in Hollywood history. How else can one view the lustful relish with which Bay shoots the end of thousands of lives, with every new scene delivering money shot after money shot, without concluding that the front of Bay's pants could not have been fully tented admiring each bomb explode and airplane crash into crowds of helpless people?
After 3 hours of my time, I learned nothing about the actual events of Pearl Harbor, or of the great sacrifices American men and women gave in service for their countries. All I have learned was that Michael Bay loves bombs -- oh, and gratuitous shots of male ass. Unless you are one who shares his fetish for either, I urge you to get your fix for romance amid tragedy with Titanic, your interest in the events of Pearl Harbor from Tora! Tora! Tora! or any of the multitudinous documentaries on the subject, and your interest in someone who loves bombs from Dr. Strangelove. I still am scratching my head wondering how someone who seems to enjoy exploding bombs with such fervor can spend his career making duds.
©2001 Vince Leo