Michael Bay is one of the most celebrated directors in Hollywood audience and critic’s ‘love to hate list’ with almost all of his films receiving “rotten” rating and razzie nominations. With his affinity to make action films for teenage boys, overdone action sequences, excess CGI and abnormal stretch in movie length is also noticed. After the critical and commercial success of titanic, probably Mr Bay decided to throw his energy into the one of the worst tragedies in the history of America, Pearl Harbor.
The movie begins with the introduction of Danny and Rafe in their childhood where they have vowed to be best of friends no matter what and the fact that Rafe is very protective of Danny. As adults, Rafe (Ben Affleck) and Danny (Josh Hartnett) are shown as quite daring but it puts them in trouble before the officials. Then the love factor comes in. Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale) the military nurse who falls in love with Rafe after… she passes him in spite of knowing that he is dyslexic because he impressed her with his speech and when he took an extra inoculation so that he could spend little more with Evelyn. Then, we get a glimpse into the World War II where the British recruit American soldiers and pilots for their war with Germany. Bay obviously didn’t want to throw light on all that, instead what mattered is that Rafe volunteered to go fight and the news regarding his death comes forward. That’s when, in the process of giving her relief, Danny and Evelyn have an affair and they fall in love. Things become complicated after Rafe returns after 3 months. The rest of the movie deals with how they overcome this love triangle dilemma.
Okay, that was a bad surmise from me, but that is what this movie focuses on with its Titanic style portrayal. Stories related to the pearl harbor attack are indeed daunting, where the Japanese planes attacked the military base on a Sunday and they have received information regarding the potential attack hours after the wave. But, everything wrong with the addition of fictional characters within the real life scenario is shown in this movie. Pearl harbor movie is not about the tragedy that killed over 3000 American lives, that is just a subplot. Instead, it is about two farm boys turned pilots Rafe and Danny their friendship and about their mutual lover Evelyn. Therefore I am putting this movie in “action” category than “biopic”. The first hour of this movie was painfully boring where they showed the love triangle part, I remembering falling asleep while watching it, so I missed the majority of it. I had to watch it again to witness the whole thing. It took 1 hour and 25 minutes to finally bring in the titular aspect, the Pearl Harbor. After that pacing, the direction quality, the acting quality and thrills increase exponentially. Basically, the movie structure is like having a chocolate pastry in the middle of two long dry rusks, and we have to bite off the rusks to finally experience the chocolate pastry. Ok, I rather not compare the death of soldiers, destruction of infrastructure and the touching triage scenes with a pastry but that is what this movie watching experience felt like. There were many memorable moments like Evelyn’s dedication to her job and her leadership during the crisis, Red warning about the Japanese attack, Dorie’s (Cuba Gooding Jr) showdown and his moment with the captain. Even during the attack sequences, factual errors and historical inaccuracies have pissed off many viewers. The Japanese never attacked the hospitals and were given direct orders to not strike even if it was a clean shot. And one of the soldiers is heard shouting “I can’t swim”. Why would they have a marine who can’t swim on a battleship? Until the end of the crisis, Danny and Rafe’s involvement were limited to running from the torpedoes towards the airplanes, the pacing was adequate but it raises the point, that’s it? And the initial slow pacing follows, where more cringeworthy and unbelievable moments are seen.
Ben Affleck delivered a stone-faced performance where his facial muscles were trying their best to show accurate expressions. The scene where he says long monologs were just too cheesy to watch as Affleck failed to deliver the accurate emotions to the scene. That being said, he was blameless during the 45 minutes where the pearl harbor was attacked. It seemed that only then he got the motivation to act. Unlike Affleck, Hartnett is more sincere and fervent in his delivery. His combination scene with Affleck highlighted the difference in their acting qualities. Hartnett brought more passion and eagerness to his character, that being said it lacked proper development and connection. Kate Beckinsale is adept but seemingly the director is more focused on her appearance. Evelyn’s involvement during the crisis is on point and kudos to Randall Wallace and Bay for that. Beckinsale was steadfast in her portrayal and we get to identify with her emotions as she is also trying to keep a brave face amidst doctors and nurses who are less experienced. Evelyn’s character, just like the premise about the pearl harbor attack, is ruined by the initial slapstick comedy and cheesy romance. Cuba Gooding Jr maintained his Oscar-winning acting quality as he brought the African American hero to life, however, the movie’s inability to pay homage to his character with his less involvement was a huge letdown to his legacy. But the positive streak is that our POV might shift from the love triangle to the real characters during the attack sequences. Alec Baldwin has not changed over the years but he gave Doolittle proper depth.
The film’s structure and bad writing were a huge obstacle for Michael Bay’s direction thus adding insult to injury along with all the negative reviews. As the only film of Bay’s with an Oscar win, for sound design, technically, the movie is well done. The cinematography, editing, the texture and above all the sound effects were handled proficiently. The effects during the Japanese attack sequences can be used for the demonstration of a newly purchased home theater. The settings and costumes were adroit. Bay and his crew have taken notable effort with the budget, but then failure to make a proper connection with the attack is the major setback of this movie. The title should have been “Rafe, Evelyn and Danny” or “farmboys”,at leastt “love at Pearl Harbor”.
Overall Pearl Harbor works only as an entertainer, nothing more or less.
Featured image: justwatch.com