Pearl Harbor


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Pearl Harbour
"Even before a Japanese plane appears on the horizon, the film has drowned in its own sentiment."

Even before a Japanese plane appears on the horizon, the film has drowned in its own sentiment. Mills & Boon stopped publishing stuff like this in the Seventies, because their reputation for romance had become tainted by an old-fashioned belief in innocence and chastity.

The attack on Pearl Harbor isn't a gleam in an admiral's eye before grown men are weeping in the audience, not with emotion, but from boredom. The love of the dashing fighter pilot for the beautiful nurse goes on for over an hour, interspersed with his buddies' boyish escapades. He volunteers to join the RAF and fight the real war in Europe. She says she'll wait, holding back the tears. Everyone is so brave.

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The dashing fighter pilot's childhood friend, another fighter pilot, who is not quite so dashing, because he's shy, like a country boy, looks out for the nurse and then news comes through that the dashing fighter pilot has been killed in action and everyone goes quiet for a bit.

After three months behaving like a wet hen, the nurse closes the drawer with his letters and keepsakes and the shy fighter pilot, who doesn't pretend to be dashing any more, lowers his face close to hers and she kisses him and he smiles, knowing that nothing will be the same again.

When the dashing fighter pilot comes back from the dead, which he has to, because he's played by Ben Affleck, the love triangle is in place. The originality is breathtaking. Best friends, same girl. Meanwhile, planes of a different hue are flying low over Hawaii, dropping torpedoes into the harbour, close to the big ships. Within minutes, the screen has been hijacked by the boys from special effects.

Since none of these people are remotely real, you can sit back and watch the fireworks, not having to worry about who gets a bullet and who gets blown to bits. The beautiful nurse remains beautiful throughout the chaos of mutilated bodies and hardly breathing corpses at the hospital. The dashing fighter pilots manage to find a couple of planes that work and go up and bag themselves some Japs. Everyone is so brave.

After the cloying sweetness of the early phase, during which you have to remind yourself that From Here To Eternity covered the same historical period, which is like comparing Sleepless In Seattle with Nil By Mouth, comes the big money reconstruction of The Attack.

This is relentless. The cut-aways to Washington, where Roosevelt (Jon Voight, giving the only memorable performance) lectures his defence team on the meaning of courage, are a relief. Screaming, dying men in dirty water have a choice - to shut up, or croak. Watching them decide is not enjoyable.

When it's over and the enemy has left, a big nationalist wind-up begins. America The Great will strike back, no matter what the risk, no matter what the cost. An insane raid is planned. The dashing fighter pilots are now dashing bomber pilots. The beautiful nurse wishes them luck, holding back the tears.

They say the premiere party in Honolulu cost more than it took to make Billy Elliot. Has the world gone mad, or is it just Hollywood? Films of this magnitude that are so empty defy logic. Actors become images for the marketing department to play with. Affleck has the chin. Josh Hartnett has the looks of a young Tommy Lee Jones. Kate Beckinsale has the cool grace of a Hemingway heroine.

Reviewed on: 31 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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