Pearl Harbor

Pearl Harbor

***

Reviewed by: Symon Parsons

They don't make 'em like this any more.

Pearl Harbor is the three-hour, $139 million take on the historical event that launched the USA into the Second World War. The film is something of an event right now (to put it mildly), with queues around cinema blocks, news headlines and a world premiere on board the USS John C. Stennis.

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And why not? Previous romance stories wrapped around tragic historical events have done - uh - titanically well at the box office.

This time the story concerns Evelyn (Kate Beckinsale) who begins a romance with the dashing Rafe (Ben Affleck). Unfortunately, the affair is cut short when Rafe goes to fly for the British and she subsequently hears of his death in action. She turns to Rafe's best friend, the thoughtful and quiet Danny (Josh Harnett) for comfort and the two end up together.

What Evelyn unfortunately doesn't know, but what we in the audience are all too aware of is this: you don't kill Ben Affleck halfway through a film.

Of course he's not dead! And he's none too pleased either when he finds out what's been going on while he's been in Occupied France. But before the three of them can work the situation out as adults, the catastrophic assault on Pearl Harbour takes place.

The attack itself is breathtaking, Michael Bay (the director of Armageddon) uses every CGI effect in the book to bring the intensity, barbarity and terror of the bombardment to the screen.

We follow a bomb from the bay of the attacking plane to the deck of the ship; gigantic warships crumple like cardboard; hundreds of sailors are crushed as a ship rolls over. Then we cut to Evelyn treating the blackened and bloody sailors in hospital. It's the most vivid depiction of war I've seen this side of Saving Private Ryan.

But the film never achieves the moral authority of Saving Private Ryan or The Thin Red Line. Unfortunately it throws away the impact of these shocking images by then trading on cheap jingoistic cliches and action-movie histrionics.

President Roosevelt is portrayed as an ass-kickin' dude and Ben and Josh take on the entire Japanese air-force in a silly Top Gun finale to the Pearl Harbour raid.

We then enter a third act, concerning the American attempt to strike back at the Empire with an attack on Tokyo wherein the romantic subplot is finally resolved.

But the romance is definitely the weakest part of the film. While Josh, Ben and Kate are undoubtedly all attractive and charismatic actors, their underwritten roles are only an irritating Dawson's Creek type distraction to the momentous events that are unfolding.

Annoyingly, a more interesting story about the true-life character Dorie Miller (Cuba Gooding Jr) hardly gets any screen time at all.

Pearl Harbour is undoubtedly solid entertainment and a genuine summer blockbuster, but it doesn't aspire to be anything other than that. As the titles rolled, I felt it was not so much From Here To Eternity as From Here To This Time Next Week, which is a terrible waste.

The film has caused controversy among the Japanese-American audience already. This is understandable. Despite the fact that the script does try to portray the Japanese motivation fairly, shots of Japanese Zeroes flying over a baseball game and the Stars and Stripes sinking into the harbour can't help but inspire xenophobia (one television presenter is already in hot water for announcing, "I don't know why the Japanese are boycotting this movie. After all, they started the war").

The jingoistic script, by Braveheart scribe Randall Wallace, is also hard to take at times. The film slips too often into war-movie cliches that were dated in the Fifties. I suppose the real reason they don't make 'em like this any more is simple - the war ended 56 years ago, and modern movies should take the trouble to reflect that.

Reviewed on: 27 May 2001
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The three-hour, $139 million take on the historical event that launched the USA into the Second World War.
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